Immy Robinson and Louise Cooper share reflections on the design and prototyping process as Fair Finance launch a new online financial advice tool.
Unstable work conditions and low savings make Fair Finance customers particularly vulnerable to economic hardship caused by the outbreak of Covid-19. Financial management and access to support is important in helping these customers through this period, but the landscape of support can be difficult to navigate, particularly for those who are unfamiliar with it.
Fair Finance enlisted the support of Shift to help prepare for this by developing and testing a product which quickly and efficiently signposts customers to advice and support that is right for them.
Working closely with Fair Finance’s advisors, we designed a web-based tool that refers customers to information, advice and hands-on support related to debt, benefits, money management and access to emergency essentials.
Customers are taken through a simple form which asks them to input data about their financial situation. A progress bar enables them to see how far through the journey they are. The decision logic then works its magic in the background and the customer is presented with a Personal Action Plan signposting them to the most appropriate source of support for them and their situation. They’re also emailed their Personal Action Plan, along with the data they have inputted, to help them in any future conversations with financial advisors.
3 key design considerations
In designing the online advice tool, there were a few key considerations to take into account:
01 Acknowledging limited bandwidth
Covid has been challenging for us all. Layering financial stress and uncertainty on top of all the other challenges the pandemic has wrought makes processing complex information especially difficult. That’s why the advisory tool signposts customers to no more than three sources of support, presented in order of priority. The Personal Action Plan they receive pulls out the key information they need (phone number, website address, opening hours, what to ask for) and uses simple, friendly language to make it easy and inviting to engage with.
02 Managing supply and demand
The financial turmoil caused by months of lockdowns has loaded extra demand on an already stretched financial advice sector. Wait times for in-person or phone consultations can be long, leaving people frustrated and unsupported. Where appropriate, the advisory tool signposts customers to ‘self-serve’ support: online resources that can be accessed anytime, anywhere, without delay. This sort of support doesn’t suit everyone or every situation, but where it is suitable, it enables people to get the advice they need sooner.
03 Addressing root causes
We know that finances are inextricably linked to – and affected by – other areas of life. Whilst there are limits to what can be diagnosed and supported within an online financial advice tool, it is important to recognise that underlying issues might be at play which need to be addressed in order for customers to have a chance to improve their financial situation. That’s why we have included referral pathways for gambling addiction and economic abuse, recognising that these are two underlying issues sometimes faced by Fair Finance customers.
Dreams for the future
The online advice tool represents a big step forward – not only for Fair Finance optimising the support they offer, but also in helping simplify customers’ initial interactions with the financial support sector more broadly. To improve this even further, we’d love to see a few things happen:
Comprehensive mapping of provision
A wide range of financial advice and support exists, from national organisations through to local provision. Whilst efforts have been made to map specific types of financial support (such as Monday Advice Service’s Debt Advice Locator), more could be done to map the full landscape of financial advice and support available to low and middle income groups.
A system-wide view of capacity
A traffic light system for capacity across the financial support sector would enable smarter referrals to be made, ensuring customers aren’t signposted to providers who don’t have the capacity to support them. In making visible where capacity exists and doesn’t exist, bottlenecks could be dealt with more effectively, and customers better supported.
Greater provision of money management support
Through the course of this work we’ve been reminded that existing service provision is dominated by debt and benefits advice. It seems little exists in terms of services around proactive financial coaching and money management. Greater provision of this sort of support could help prevent people who are ‘at risk’ from falling into financial hardship.