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Putting a price on financial security

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Putting a price on financial security

By Andy Lane, Deputy Managing Director

In a world of extremes where everyday comforts are becoming aspirational, fintech promises micro solutions to macro challenges. What price do we pay for daring to dream?

Ask a redundant question

What price would you pay for financial security? For the generations who have reached adulthood following the Global Financial Crisis, or will do so in the post-Covid years, it may easily feel like a redundant question. By many traditional measures, there’s a growing risk the price will be one they cannot afford.

Britain’s Financial Inclusion Commission provides a stark summary of the challenges facing a country which “prides itself in being a global leader in financial services.” Try telling that to the 22% of UK adults with less than £100 in savings, or the 16% borrowing to pay for essentials because they have run out of money.

These are far from isolated issues contained within national borders. Britain may be counting the cost of self-imposed circumstances, but even with Brexit and the aftermath of 2022’s mini-Budget, it’s a long way from monopolising financial woes. Much of Europe is similarly stretched while African nations are balancing the cost-of-living crisis with worsening climate shocks.

Micro solutions to macro challenges

The post-2007/8 rise of fintech brands with challenger propositions and disruptive ambitions has often been fuelled by a quest to replace the control that’s gone missing from millions of lives, which have already been deeply disrupted by shifting socio-economic sands. In years gone by, financial security could be judged by five core variables:

  1. A secure income from work
  2. A home you own
  3. Affordable education
  4. Accessible healthcare
  5. A comfortable standard of living in retirement

Fast forward to today and, in one sense, we have never been more plugged into our personal finances, with branded budgeting tools and financial education apps widely available on demand. Yet many people can legitimately claim they have never felt more powerless. What good is an app that converts your spare change into extra savings when the average home costs almost a decade of average earnings?

The digitisation of financial services has also found new ways to make us feel vulnerable as aspirations collide with the realities of 21st century life. Would cryptocurrencies attract such hype if returns on mainstream assets didn’t leave life milestones feeling so unattainable? Would ‘fin-fluencers’ with their questionable credentials prosper from the public thirst for investment advice if the luxury lifestyles they flaunt online didn’t otherwise feel so far out of reach?

Exiting the age of assumption

We are living in an era of micro security and macro vulnerabilities, where brands can only be truly transparent, ethical and have a sense of social purpose if they are willing to grasp the nettle and make a habit out of engaging with inconvenient truths. It’s no longer good enough to let someone assume their default pension payments will translate into a comfortable retirement, if the opposite is most likely to be true. Neither should it be enough to sell someone a mortgage they won’t be able to pay off until after they retire, without helping them work through the consequences first.

The age of assumption is behind us and people need more from financial services to restore a sense of security.  As the UK prepares to go live with its new regulatory Consumer Duty, how can brands go beyond offering more of the same?

  1. Keep solutioneering simple: The higher the financal hurdles people face in everyday life, the more complex some solutions have become. As a result, the barriers to financial literacy have become harder than ever to negotiate. These trends mean brands must double down on efforts to help people understand the rules of engagement and act accordingly.
  2. Challenge convention with tangible alternatives: The UK has recently seen 100% mortgages reborn as a solution to the private renting trap. Society needs more products and pathways designed to meet modern financial challenges, and fewer attempts to turn the clock back to a bygone era with norms that are past their sell-by date.
  3. Be transparent about the trade-offs: Navigating financial services in 2023 increasingly means trading our data and digital identities for personalised prompts and bespoke propositions. Customers need to understand the compromises this involves and have a right to ask how you can reward their trust to help them achieve better outcomes.
  4. Confront the difficult questions: At a basic level, people want to feel their financial decisions will leave them better off than other alternatives or doing nothing at all. The rise of machine learning and artificial intelligence raises complex sub-questions, such as: “are the algorithms powering this price comparison website working for or against me?” As firms engage with the possibilities of tech, they need to keep in mind they are experimenting with people’s futures and not wait for a crisis before resolving ethical dilemmas.

Wherever we are and whatever the time of day, the march of fintech and open finance means something or someone is always watching our financial footsteps. It’s more important than ever to know they have our best interests at heart.

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