Katie Evans, Head of Research & Policy, Money and Mental Health
Fintech, mental health and data sharing
Managing your money can be tricky at the best of times, but can be even more difficult when you’re experiencing a mental health problem which makes it harder to process information, to make decisions, to keep track of spending or to get in touch with companies. This week is ‘Fincap Week’ – and we wanted to shine a light on how fintech could help to boost financial capability for people with mental health problems.
Often, financial difficulties associated with mental health problems could be avoided if the right support was available. At Money and Mental Health, we hear many stories of people getting into financial difficulties because they were too unwell to open post or pick up the phone; because they struggled to set up a direct debit; or because they struggled to keep track of how much they were spending. Relatively simple tools – like notifications of spending behaviour, the ability to fence off money for essential bills in a separate pot, or the ability to turn off your debit card at certain times of day, could make a huge difference to people’s ability to stay in control of their money in periods of poor mental health . Throughout 2017, we’ve been working hard to encourage firms to build these tools, and to make them available to the customers who need them most. A big part of that work was the TechSprint we held with the Financial Conduct Authority back in March.
The TechSprint, a two day event, saw developers working together to build practical tools and products which could help people experiencing mental health problems to manage their money. Yesterday we were back at the Financial Conduct Authority, catching up with some of the banks, technology firms and mental health experts who took part in that event to hear about what they had done since.
But, of course, it’s not just about building whizzy prototypes. The most exciting thing to see yesterday was the confidence with which the teams spoke about mental health when they updated us on progress. For many of the team members, the challenges faced by people experiencing mental health problems just weren’t something they had ever considered. Since the event, many have gone back to their organisations and begun to think not only about how they can bring to life the tools designed at the TechSprint, but also how they can work across the rest of their businesses to provide more support to customers experiencing mental health problems. It’s in this change in mindset, and in the conversations the TechSprint started, that real change begins to happen.
Two big questions
Through yesterday’s conversations, it became clear that two knotty questions are holding back progress on this agenda.
- How can we keep people and their data safe when building mechanisms to allow friends and family to help support someone’s financial and mental health?
Many people experiencing mental health problems rely on someone else to help them manage their money. Often they use risky workarounds to do this – for example, sharing PIN numbers or passwords to online banking. There’s a clear case for financial services providers to build official ways to share financial data with trusted third parties. But we need to think about how this can be done in a way that is sensitive, empowering and doesn’t leave people any more vulnerable to abuse.
- How do we ensure that sensitive data about people’s mental health and financial behaviour is used to support them, not exploit them?
Many of the ideas our TechSprint teams came up with relied on bringing together different datasets. This might be combining information about a person’s financial behaviour, drawn from bank accounts or credit cards, with mood tracking, social media data, or biometric data. Bringing these types of data together could help people to understand their own behaviour and make it easier to spot when things start to go wrong – for example, by potentially identifying the onset of a manic episode for a person with bipolar disorder. However, if we’re bringing these very sensitive types of data together, we also have to be aware of the consequences. How can we be sure that they won’t be used to discriminate against people, or otherwise abused?
These are big questions, without straightforward answers. Through 2018, Money and Mental Health hope to work with our brilliant Research Community to understand how people living with mental health problems, and those who care for them, feel about sharing data, and giving loved ones access to their financial information. With this understanding, we hope to be able to move the conversation forwards, and get one step closer to having tools that could make managing money more straightforward in everyone’s pockets.