The “proximate use” is a term used to describe how how illiterate and low-literate consumers managed to use products designed for people who could read and write. It extends to any situation in which the end user relies on a third party to navigate a particular service and overcome shortfalls in its service. It draws on many years research by Jan Chipchase with this demographic.
Proximate use tends to be more prevalent in low-income, low literacy, resource constrained communities with strong, well-established social ties. There are costs to being a “proximate” customer, however. The middle person or institution may charge fees or decline to pass on additional benefits of the service to the end user, they may not fully understand the service themselves. Tasks take longer to complete, and the customer's privacy is usually lost in the process. In many markets this would be enough to encourage direct use of formal services, however in the contexts mentioned above, such costs are rarely enough to deter customers.
The notion of proximate banking recognises that, under the right conditions, informal solutions can address gaps in the market. It challenges the idea that every part of the service ecosystem needs to be designed from the top down. It recognises that there are distinct customer needs: the facilitator of the transaction as well as the end user of the service. Similarly, understanding the concept helps to identify where the proximate user's needs are being poorly met.
Proximate use, is one of a number of concepts that are covered in our workshops on designing for resource constrained consumers.