How can providers leverage technology to improve financial health programs?
Programs designed to help people become financially healthy often face challenges in engaging clients and scaling their efforts. Increasingly, many are turning to technology to overcome these challenges and increase their impact.
As CFSI detailed in Financial Technology Trends in the Underbanked Market, the opportunity to leverage technology for financial health becomes clear when looking at the growth in access to and adoption of technology among underserved consumers. According to a 2014 survey conducted by the Federal Reserve, 69% of unbanked consumers have access to a mobile phone, approximately half of which are smartphones (internet-enabled)1. And 88% of the underbanked have mobile phone access, 64% of which are smartphones. Similarly, Pew Research Center found that internet usage among low-income households (those making under $30k annually) increased from 34% in 2000 to 74% in 2014, with higher rates of usage among consumers at higher income levels2.
In this environment, financial health programs have a significant opportunity to utilize technology to increase engagement, deepen impact, and improve clients’ financial health.
Several grantees of the Financial Capability Innovation Funds (FCIF) have designed and tested tech tools for financial health. A partnership with a collaborative of funders led by the Citi Foundation, the Funds provided support to innovative projects designed to help low-income and underserved consumers adopt positive financial behaviors.
Two FCIF grantees highlighted here offer insights into effective approaches and the potential benefits of utilizing technology to enhance financial health programs.
Solutions for Progress – Balancing Impact with Scale
Can tech platforms replicate the impact of in-person engagement while increasing a program’s ability to scale?
New research has shown that well-designed financial coaching programs (i.e. long-term engagements in which a coach helps a client identify and achieve financial goals) can have a meaningful impact on consumers’ financial health3. However, these programs traditionally rely on a model of in-person, one-on-one interaction, making them difficult to grow.
Solutions for Progress (SfP) explored the question of how to scale a financial coaching program through online engagement without diminishing its impact.
SfP operates and distributes MyBudgetCoach (MyBC), an online platform designed to complement and enhance existing financial coaching programs. SfP distributes MyBC to providers to use with clients, creating a turnkey way to offer or enhance financial coaching programs.
SfP, in partnership with the Center for Financial Security, the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, and several other nonprofits, conducted a pilot to test different combinations of in-person and online delivery of a financial coaching program in order to gauge MyBC’s relative impact on clients’ financial health.
MyBudgetCoach Interim Results
While Solutions for Progress is continuing to evaluate pilot outcomes, interim results have shown meaningful improvements in financial health as the more than 300 pilot participants saved approximately $90,000 and paid down over $54,000 in debt during their time in the MyBC program.
SfP used the Center for Financial Security’s Financial Capability Scale (FCS) to measure overall impact of the MyBC pilot on clients. The vast majority of participants improved their FCS score after five coaching sessions. However, the online-only group posted a greater average improvement in its score than did the pilot group as a whole (49% to 41%, respectively).
SfP is working to better understand reasons why the online-group demonstrated above average results, but the early findings from the pilot suggest technology, when designed well, can be used to help scale and enhance successful in-person interventions without sacrificing client impact.
Neighborhood Trust – Driving Engagement
Building tech solutions can be a daunting task that requires a substantial amount of resources and organizational focus. But that’s only half the battle. Once tools are ready for client use, providers must figure out how to get clients to take them up and use them on a regular basis.
Neighborhood Trust Financial Partners’ (NTFP) example offers insight into how to motivate clients to take up a new tech tool. NTFP developed PayGoal, a workplace financial counseling platform that uses mobile technology to help employees budget and allocate wages towards their financial goals. It links to a user’s online banking platform and suggests small, positive steps users can take to better manage and save their money.
PayGoal continues to evolve but its alpha and beta launches have generated interesting preliminary results. PayGoal’s beta reinforced the appetite of financially underserved workers to engage with a mobile-driven tool. In beta, the conversion rate from receiving an invitation to join PayGoal to signing-up was 16%; this was a higher rate than expected based on NTFP observations of similar financial products, demonstrating clients will engage with mobile financial services when promoted by employers. The strategies used to achieve this conversion rate included:
- Using the right channel: By partnering with employers to distribute the tool via the workplace, NTFP leveraged a trusted source and a relevant context (i.e. where people are paid) to pitch PayGoal. In some cases, NTFP staff set up tables at the workplace to discuss and share info with potential users.
- Leveraging key moments: NTFP was smart about engaging with potential users during moments in which employees were more likely to be thinking about financial challenges and goals. For example, NTFP coordinated with employers to present the opportunity to sign up for PayGoal when employees reached out to their employer with an issue that would affect their wages, such as not getting enough hours or changing a schedule.
- Making enrollment easy: Recognizing that take-up can be inhibited by a lot of friction during the enrollment process, PayGoal allowed for a user-friendly mobile enrollment through text message invitations. These linked to a mobile-optimized light application that was clean, friendly, and easy to access and complete. Subsequent interactions were driven by text messages directing a user to a particular function on the site or delivering targeted content helping them with their cash flow management.
Based on clients’ responsiveness, it can be concluded that underserved workers are open to a tech-based intervention, even if it is a mobile-only intervention. While NTFP’s strategies proved effective in persuading users to sign up, the program faced challenges during the beta in getting users to engage further by, for example, providing their bank account information or identifying financial goals. The team continues to iterate on new versions of PayGoal, digging deeper into factors that can improve cash flow management, and develop strategies to boost ongoing engagement.
What does it mean for the field?
Technology opens up new paths to enhance and scale financial health programs. Not every client will adopt tech tools, but for many, they can offer a type of engagement that suits their needs and leads to greater overall impact. And for providers–especially nonprofits with tight budgets–tech can help to increase efficiency and reach more clients without necessarily losing impact.
As with all programs or offerings, providers need to think carefully about how to introduce tech in ways that resonate with clients and encourage continued usage over time. An iterative approach is essential to this process; providers should work to continually evolve these tools to ensure they are a good fit for clients.
The tech opportunity is just beginning to present itself, and it will continue to develop as new technology emerges. Solutions for Progress and Neighborhood Trust Financial Partners have shown that providers can find ways to use this powerful tool in ways that promote financial health. Others should follow their lead; the potential of technology is simply too strong to ignore.
1. ￼Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Consumers and Mobile Financial Services 2014, March 2014.
2. Duggan, Maeve and Perrin, Andrew, Americans’ Internet Access: 2000-2015, Pew Research Center, June 26, 2015.
3. Theodos, Brett and Treskon, Mark, Does financial coaching help people reach their financial goals?, Urban Institute, October 8, 2015.