Rosie Normanton, Head of Strategic Partnerships, Money and Mental Health Policy Institute

How firms can use innovation and technology to support customers with mental health problems

5 December 2022

This past Saturday marked the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The day was proclaimed by the UN in 1992 with the aim of promoting understanding of disability issues, and mobilising support for the dignity, rights and well-being of people with disabilities, including those with mental health problems. 

This year’s theme is innovative solutions for increasing accessibility and equity. This is something that resonates strongly with the team at Money and Mental Health: we know innovation offers service providers many opportunities to better support customers with mental health problems. It’s a good moment to reflect on the opportunities for firms to use technology to make life easier for those of us experiencing money and mental health problems – and where some of the potential drawbacks can lie.

Innovation in finance

There is no doubt that the past decade has seen some impressive innovative feats in the financial sector. We can now manage our bank accounts from our mobiles, cash in cheques with a quick snap and ‘pay with our face’. Some of these innovations have had a positive impact on our mental health, particularly those that help us to keep track of our finances and feel more in control. 

Tech-driven budgeting tools are one opportunity. As most of us have more than one bank account, Open Banking solutions – which allow data from multiple accounts to be collected and analysed in one place – offer a potential route to effective budgeting tools. 

Some of us with mental health problems can struggle with impulsivity, which can make sticking to a budget difficult – so ideally, budgeting tools should take this into account, allowing for a dynamic approach where people can get ‘back on track’ if things deviate from plan.

But it’s also important to remember that not everyone thrives in an increasingly cashless and digital work. As our research has shown, some people with mental health problems rely on ‘access to cash’ to help them manage their money. We’d like financial firms to put in place safeguards to ensure that those who rely on cash aren’t disadvantaged.

Deals and contracts

Something else that can be challenging is getting the best deals on essential services, like mobile phones and broadband. I remember when my first mobile phone contract came to an end. My two-year contract covered the cost of the handset, and I naively expected my monthly payments to drop automatically as this cost was now covered. It’s lucky I double checked, because they did not! 

Keeping track of fixed-term contract deals, and how exactly they work, can be confusing. Firms should consider solutions that automatically track when these deals are up for renewal and provide notification of this (and help you quickly switch to a cheaper deal) could be helpful for all of us, particularly those of us who might experience memory loss or have difficulty processing information.

Spending and friction

It’s important to acknowledge that new technology, whilst in most cases helpful, also introduces new dangers. This is particularly true when it comes to spending. There has been a strong trend in fintech towards allowing items to be bought in just a few clicks, which is great for some people who want to get purchases done quickly. 

When combined with the symptoms of some mental health problems, however, this can lead to problems. Reduced spending friction can make it easier to act on impulsive spending urges and make spending decisions that haven’t been fully thought through. 

When you consider that people with mental health problems are three and a half times more likely to be in problem debt, the need to consider the unintended consequences of reduced spending friction is clear. That’s why we want retailers to offer customers more tools to manage their spending — such as the choice to opt out of ‘buy now pay later’ options, or to add a ‘cooling off’ period to their account before making purchases.

Mental Health Accessible

We have many opportunities at our fingertips to use technological innovations for good. At Money and Mental Health, we help essential services providers direct their innovation efforts in a way that benefits their customers with mental health problems, as well as their broader customer base and, indeed, the business itself.

There is no better time to focus on this than now, as we face a cost of living crisis that is affecting the whole country. As our research shows, the consequences of the cost of living crisis don’t fall evenly. We will keep working to make sure innovation plays its part in helping people with mental problems and disabilities. 

If you work for an essential services firm and would like to find out more about how we can help you improve the service you offer to customers with mental health problems, contact Rosie at [email protected].