Financial Technologies in the Cycle of Poor Mental Health and Financial Hardship

Digital Social Innovation

Collaborators Northumbria University, Touco, Money and Mental Health Policy, University of Edinburgh

Abstract

The paper provides a set of design directions for technologies that engage those living with poor mental health not as vulnerable targets for financial inclusion, but as full financial citizens.

Method

It reports on a diary study and interviews with 14 people who self-identify as living with a mental health condition focusing on their experiences of financial technology use.

Takeaways

Rather than lacking capability, participants’ practices revealed shortcomings of existing financial technologies and how they sought to work around these.

It is well documented that people living with mental health conditions are more likely to experience financial difficulties. When explaining this association, emphasis has often been placed on financial capability, i.e. the capacity of those living with poor mental health to manage their money.

This paper challenges such capability-based explanations by reporting on a diary study and interviews with 14 people who self-identify as living with a mental health condition. We focused on their experiences of financial technology use, and explored the role technology played in their strategies to minimise the impact of mental health on their economic circumstances.

Rather than lacking capability, participants’ practices revealed shortcomings of existing financial technologies and how they sought to work around these. We conclude by providing a set of design directions for technologies that engage those living with poor mental health not as vulnerable targets for financial inclusion, but as full financial citizens.

The Design Shortcomings of Financial Technologies

Perhaps enticed by the promise of reduced marginal costs per customer, the financial industry seems to take for granted that introducing technology delivers convenience and makes it easier for people to manage their money.

Impulsive and compulsive behaviours, as well as comfort spending, are common symptoms in mental health conditions. There is a lack of friction present in both obtaining and spending credit, and this prompts the development of personal strategies to add resistance in both domains.

A second area in need of attention from designers is financial collaboration. Research about managing on a low income, as well as on money and mental health, has repeatedly shown the importance of social networks of support as a financial coping strategy.

Towards Technologies for Financial Citizenship

We suggest useful insight can be gained by drawing on the concept of financial citizenship. Financial citizenship demands an active role from the state, which must guarantee access to appropriate financial products and services. We argue that the technologies that increasingly mediate financial service provision should also assume an active role in the pursuit of financial citizenship.

We propose to design for configurability, which would provide a layer of options on top of standard financial services, so that people can customise those services to their personal financial practices.

Financial technologies should aim not to replace other service channels, but to complement them. They should be understood as one more option within a set of financial interaction possibilities that may include face-to-face service provision, telephone and digital technologies, as well as physical financial artefacts such as cash, paper application forms or paper receipts.