This time of year, people are either very distressed for not making their targets (yet), or very relaxed and focussed on family time – I am wishing you the latter! I really like to do work during the holiday period – not during the Christmas days that I like to spend with family – and open up the creative side of my brain. During the year, the mountain of work that comes my way – feels like snow piling up in front of a snowplow – makes it hard to look further ahead. But as emails are becoming less frequent and colleagues take off for holidays, it’s time to clean up, reflect and plan ahead. And I guess I am not alone, so I will share some insights into this reflection and how I believe it links to financial services.
Our sense of time
A Homo Sapiens like me is very much influenced by the seasons and his view of the world, as well as his feeling, is following the pattern. Around this time of year, you feel the time has flown by in the past year, but next year looks like it will last twice as long. Therefore ambition and plans are sky-high – based on that feeling of endless future time. But when you finally get started in the new year, you realize that you have lost a couple of weeks in the tail of the holidays and with new years’ receptions and before you know it, the summer break wakes you up from the treadmill, only to make you realize that after summer barely three-and-a-half months allow you to still meet your targets.
Our sense of money
This is just like we do our financial planning: poor statistical senses, an over-positive take on our past and being in control, and high expectations for the future. To be honest, I am a real optimist, so I must be modest in how far this actually also works for pessimists. In any case, it’s very easy these days to fall for the trap of spending more than you have, while the future looks promising. Especially, as the value of money – measured in interest rates – is not helpful to see the value of money, it is just too cheap these days. The opportunities to spend it without expenses being tangible are endless. Even as economies across the world seem to be on the rise, more and more people have to deal with financial stress – currently number the 1 cause for stress.
As an entrepreneur, I can relate to that, because building a business and organization without much capital is just a tough job, and things always turn out differently than you (read I, said the optimist) expect. Cash is always tight and desperate measures can become an instant necessity. The only positive thing is that companies and entrepreneurs tend to have a good support system. All kinds of advisors and tools can help entrepreneurs or business directors deal with adversity – mostly because it’s a business opportunity. And we can talk about business adversity much easier than in personal situations. It’s even getting into fashion to talk about your professional failures, for example at #fuckup events. That is already a big step forward, to start to be more open there and learn from each other.
Personal financial stress
So how is that working out in the personal finance space? Much tougher, it seems, as managing your personal finance seems to be getting easier by the day, with digital banking and payments, real-time spending insights and access to financial services has never been easier. So what is the problem? That lies actually mostly outside the traditional financial industry. Spending, gaming, betting, buying on credit has never been easier. Digital seductions make that money gets spent seamlessly via cards, mobile wallets or online payments, and people hardly have experience or education about how to control their finances in that world.
The power of psychology & data
But the problem may even go deeper. The marketing skills that today make it possible to let people change their behaviour, are getting increasingly stronger. They are now powered by a strong understanding of marketing psychology, and vast amounts of data and enhanced analytic tooling (often referred to as Artificial Intelligence). These customer journeys nudge us during every step of our way through our mobile phone, no matter where we are. Many of these journeys are built to help people do better, but the power mostly lies with where the money is: commercial interest that might misalign with the interest of the consumer. This is one of the bigger challenges for policy and social initiatives, to understand and bend this power play in the favour of the consumer.
Solving for financial stress
Should we then abandon digital technology, if we can’t control it yet? Not really an option – nor desirable, as all of us keep on being pulled towards the large potential of technology. But we should get much smarter at helping people deal with this increasingly complex world. And fortunately, we have the same set of insights and tools available, to be with the consumer all the time, assess risks on the spot and nudge their behaviour to do better for themselves. Specific tools that focus on consumers’ financial wellbeing are becoming increasingly available and popular as part of the fintech stack.
Joining forces to make an impact
Nevertheless, the challenges are mostly shaped across domains and industries, and spending is not seen as a financial decision, like lending or investing. Therefore, financial services players are not expected or allowed to advise on the spot. But the willingness to make a difference is certainly there. In our network I meet fintech startups, financial services institutions as well as advisors and technology parties on a daily basis, that really care for this matter and want to make a positive impact. To enable them to make that impact and the rest of society to benefit, we require a concerted effort across industries and involving regulators and academia, to make sure that existing or new solutions will actually work.
Join us & give feedback
I really care for the impact that we can make by analyzing the actual state of personal finance and financial well-being, and solve everyday challenges. Through co-operation, we can accomplish so much relief for financial stress and reduce poverty and in the end, give more control back to the consumer. 2020 seems just about the right year to make this work. Please join me on the quest to empower the consumer, by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Any contribution is valuable: an idea, a new solution, a specific challenge to tackle, a platform to build on or existing initiatives we can join.
I hope you find value in this thinking and would like to work together on making a positive impact on the way people experience financial services and help them deal with the digitizing world.
For now, I wish you a lot of time offline with friends and family. Enjoy the holidays!
Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.
– Blaise Pascal (1657)