Op-ed

Redesigning finance for a wellbeing economy


by Yasin Masukor

In my career, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some amazing teams to design, validate and launch financial products. These products cover all aspects of personal finance, including everyday banking, through to wealth creation, investing, superannuation and insurance.

Across the work, two common problems continue to arise:

  1. Finance is complex, and can be difficult to understand.
  2. Generally, people struggle with financial literacy, have varying mathematical ability, and aren’t set up to deal with complex, abstract systems.

Tools have become more powerful, but exponentially more complex

The rise in complexity hasn’t driven an equal increase in value for our customers. Instead we’ve created products that are too complex for the average person to understand – to the point where they’re no longer willing or able to use them.

Is it reasonable to expect our customers to deal with ever increasing complexity, when there’s so little tangible benefit on their side?

Graph showing the association between things being too complex to understand and not valuable enough to bother.

Low financial literacy compounds the issues around complexity

There’s a sizable portion of the population who – for a variety of good reasons – often don’t have the levels of numeracy we require of them to understand financial products.

How can we expect a customer who struggles with percentages to understand that their minimum monthly repayments on their 19% p.a. credit card won’t even cover the interest? It’s clear that our current trajectory isn’t sustainable. While finance remains more complex than people can easily understand, the relationship between customers, institutions, and policy-makers will always be a zero-sum game.

We need a shift in the way we design financial products. It’s no longer sustainable to focus only on business outcomes, while ignoring the human needs in the equation. We need to re-design finance for a wellbeing economy.

What would this look like? There are a few key principles to be considered for redesigning a wellbeing economy.

1. Combine empathy & entrepreneurialism

Empathy finds ways to create wellbeing outcomes, and entrepreneurialism finds ways to create financial sustainability. Both are needed for success. Empathy without entrepreneurialism leads to well-meaning initiatives that are impossible to sustain. Entrepreneurialism without empathy leads to predatory products, unhappy customers, and broken trust.

Venn diagram showing Empathy and Entrepreneurialism

It’s also not enough for these to just co-exist. They must be combined to move forward. It’s counter-productive to have a financial wellbeing team helping people stay out of debt, while a marketing team is selling those same people high-interest credit cards.

So when designing your products consider how you might focus on wellbeing outcomes in every area of the business, from sales and support staff, to the c-suite.

2. Human-centred processes don’t guarantee wellbeing outcomes

The success of UX (User Experience) and Human-Centred Design processes have removed friction from almost all aspects of finances, making it more convenient to take detrimental actions, as well as positive ones. This creates a danger zone, where it’s easy for people to take actions without understanding their full impact.

Graph showing the danger zone where it is easy to act and hard to understand

The obvious example here is easy access to credit through payday loan companies – however this problem exists in more subtle ways too. For example, with near field communication e.g. tap and go payments – the convenience over cash is definitely a good thing from a customer’s point of view, but we’ve inadvertently made it much harder for people to keep track of their spending.

Organisations need to start considering how can they use human-centred insights to intentionally design for wellbeing outcomes?

3. Balance product automation with customer control

Automation is becoming increasingly key to managing finances – it’s an ideal tool to remove boring, repetitive tasks, and simplify complex ones. However, by helping people automate their behaviours, we risk undermining their own understanding and agency.

Graph showing a decrease in automation relies on understanding. An increase in automation removes understanding.

The perfect example here is superannuation. Mandated superannuation accounts with automatic payments are a good thing – but the process is so seamless it’s become invisible. We’ve created a situation where people often aren’t aware of their super, where it is, how much is in it, or how they’re tracking – so when there is a need to interact with it, they’re not equipped to make informed decisions.

It’s not sensible to ignore automation, so the question becomes how might we foster habits that maintain understanding, to balance out any negative side-effects of automation?

4. Find human value and measure it

Only things which are measured can be improved. If we task teams to sell products and track their performance based on this, they’re likely to become exceptional at selling that product, at the expense of all else. On the other hand, if we don’t track or measure wellbeing outcomes, it’s nearly impossible to improve them.

Diagram showing Financial outcomes are tracked and improved. Human outcomes are not tracked and not improved

We need to find ways to track human measures alongside financial ones. What should we be measuring? And how might we track these things meaningfully, in both the short and long term?

5. Move forward even in times of uncertainty

The ‘move fast and break things’ school of thought isn’t appropriate for large financial institutions – when we’re wrong, there’s a significant impact on people’s lives. Equally, it’s just as damaging to be so unsure that we get bogged down in endless research and never make tangible change.

Graph showing a collaborative process builds certainty through evidence and tangible outputs.

To create a meaningful shift in the industry, we need to necessarily step outside our comfort zone. While this can be seen as risky, we can’t be afraid to take on new ideas. We have a safety net – a collaborative, human-centric design process..

This process builds certainty through evidence and tangible outputs – we need to ask ourselves what else is needed to move forward safely.

We need to work together to develop sustainable solutions

Policy-makers can prevent malpractice and create an environment for change, but they can’t force people to improve financial literacy.

Product teams can use smart design to improve literacy, agency, and control, but are ultimately limited by the underlying financial products they’re designing for, and the regulatory environment in which they’re operating.

Financial institutions can manufacture wellbeing focused products, but these products need the right environment to stay competitive.

It takes all of us, working together, to make the shift we need, and redesign finance for a wellbeing economy.

For further information you are welcome to email Yasin at [email protected].

Author


Yasin Masukor

Yasin Masukor

Senior Digital Designer at Mentally Friendly

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