Why we need to take risks to build financial capability

27 Mar 2018

Written by Laurence Piercy

Today, we're publishing the final evaluation of our Money Advice Service funded project. With Toynbee Hall, we built a financial capability course which provided the structure and support for people to undertake their first online transaction.

Our results show that people who are helped to transact online are much more likely to transact on their own in the future. Participants who started to transact online also felt better about their own consumer behaviour and had a better financial outlook. You can read more about the findings in my recent blog.

We know that digital exclusion compounds the poverty premium. People who can't use online services pay higher prices. The poverty premium is a huge issue for social justice and we are proud to have contributed to the vibrant network of people fighting to abolish these costs.

The project could be seen as risky. We supported people on low incomes to use their own money to transact on the internet. Things could have gone wrong, but we proved that a lot of risk can be mitigated through the right support.

This project was delivered through 18 Online Centres, community centres which help people to be outward looking and participate, to learn from others and share ideas. This project worked because participants were able to trust the people who were supporting them to transact.

As we publish our final evaluation report today, we've got two key recommendations for the financial inclusion sector.

  1. Take (measured) risks

Financial inclusion is only effective if it changes behaviour. Behaviour change happens

through practise and empowerment. Taking someone through a real transaction is the only way of showing them how easy it can be.

We were able to provide assisted digital transactions in an ethical, user-centred, way. Assisted digital transactions are not a regulated activity. It is not a risk-free activity but practitioners can mitigate a lot of this risk by providing appropriate support to empower their clients.

Best practice from this project was to allow participants to identify a transaction for

themselves; give time for them to choose the transaction by setting a date for support

four weeks in advance; give 1-1 support to undertake the transaction; provide open-ended support in the days after the transaction.

  1. Make use of the community sector

Online Centres provided good support because they were able to quickly create relationships of trust. They are able to do this through informality and open-ended support.

Community centres do not set targets for their clients or stop supporting them when it

is no longer financially viable. In this case, open-ended support was important to mitigate anxiety around the transaction. Support needed to be present in the days that came after the assisted transactions.

Financial capability providers have the opportunity to learn from this insight, by prioritising trust within their own services or by making better use of the community sector.


Digital has revolutionised the way we live. It has changed the way we transact, to provide the right support to the people who need it most.

You can read our full evaluation report on the evidence hub of the Financial Capability for the UK. We'd love to hear from anyone who wants to collaborate, or to learn more.