Providing digital and financial support together

07 Dec 2020 |Written by Emma Stone

On 10 November, Mastercard lit up tower blocks in Bristol and London with the words of poet and mental health activist Hussain Manawer: ‘With a year full of so many question marks, I know it’s hard to find yourself in the dark’. The lights stayed on for 19 minutes 40 seconds to represent 19.4 million people who don’t feel prepared for difficult times ahead due to digital or financial exclusion. Encouraging people to seek support - and making it easier for people to find help with money and digital skills - is at the heart of the Nobody in the Dark coalition.

As well as signposting to online support - for those with internet access - we’re piloting a ‘guided’ service in communities to engage people with low or limited access and skills. Community partners are trained and supported by Clean Slate (financial inclusion experts and creators of QuidsIn! magazine providing money guidance for people on low incomes). They help people build their digital financial literacy by guiding people through an online money health check - the Future Proof Finance Quiz - identifying small steps they can take, and signposting to more specialist support if needed. The support is already making a difference in people’s lives. As Leeva - a divorced mum with two children, with housing and mental health as well as money worries - said: “I’m not scared of looking into what’s going on in my bank account any more and I’m worrying less about money. The quiz and resources have helped me save money by showing me how to budget properly and use things like comparison websites online. There’s a lot of help out there for people that they should know about. You don’t have to feel alone with this.”

Bringing digital inclusion and financial inclusion together shouldn’t be unusual - but it still is. This was confirmed at a roundtable we hosted last week with voluntary and community sector organisations. Some have started to bring digital and financial inclusion together, particularly since Covid-19; others run digital inclusion programmes separately from financial inclusion programmes, and reflected on needing to make better connections across these. Others commented on how the increased pace of digitalisation is making them think more about how digital exclusion impacts in their sector - such as energy and utilities.

We particularly wanted to explore the issue of trust - how we can build trust and confidence when providing digital financial support. Trust takes time to build when services are provided in communities; building through listening, developing relationships, familiarity - of places, of people, and also relatability of support (hence the power of peer support). In online environments, trust also takes time to build. Having a trusted, familiar, relatable brand surfaced as a key ingredient for online provision of digital financial support. Also important was independence from government, and well-communicated and clear data privacy and security policies. Participants reflected that encouraging people to seek support with money has never been easy. When people are in crisis, they may have little choice but to trust someone to support them.

The need for plain language - essential for those with low literacy or ESOL needs - came through as a barrier to building trust. So much language around money, debt and credit is complicated. This message also comes through strongly in IPPR’s new report on helping households in debt. Fear can be a barrier to trust and confidence; many people are understandably concerned about online fraud, scams and identity theft.

Through our discussion, we also discussed opportunities to evolve networks and referral routes; to reach out to others, such as self-help savings groups; to improve accessibility and support for disabled people, who face extra costs and higher risks of financial and digital exclusion; and to encourage fintech to be more inclusive by design.

Joining the dots between digital inclusion and financial inclusion - not only in service provision, but also in financial wellbeing strategies and in government policy - is essential. Together, we identified ways we could make progress in our own practice and with others. Given the Chancellor’s warning that ‘our economic emergency has only just begun’, this join-up could not be more important.