The State Of The Nation’s Digital Inclusion: Lloyd’s Consumer Digital Index 2019

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Today is the equivalent of Christmas day for those of us who dedicate our lives to tackling digital exclusion, with the release of Lloyds’ 2019 Consumer Digital Index. And, having read the report, I feel both optimism and concern in equal parts. Now, I hope you are feeling strong, because this blog is going to be stats-heavy.

Looking at the headline figures, there are 1.8 million more people this year with the highest level of digital capability than in 2018 – which is undoubtedly a good thing. The ‘Digitally Disengaged’ group (those who have little or not digital behaviours) is down by 1.5 million (6.1 million in 2019 compared to 7.5 million in 2018). 25% of UK adults (12.7 million) are ‘Digitally Competent’ (which means they have an email address and can shop and stream online) and 62% of the UK (31.5 million) are classed as ‘Digital First’ (they use multiple devices, shop and stream online and prefer to manage money digitally). I was even surprised to see that there’s a 11% increase in over 60s who shop online. The picture overall is rosier. But…

…and there is always a but…

The report does also highlight the importance of, what Lloyds calls the “Digital Dividend”. Whether that’s the £744 people can save by being online by shopping for local services or that 75% of people classed as ‘Digital First’ are saving money online, 57% of them have improved their employability and 42% of them use it to manage their physical and mental health Those of us who are ‘Digital First’ are paying up to 9% less for our utilities and we’re more likely to have started saving. It’s clear from the Lloyd’s Consumer Digital Index that if you’re digitally capable you are more likely to be happy, healthier and better off.

As the benefits of being online are clearer than ever, then also the urgency to get digitally excluded people online is greater than ever. The other side to the coin is that those who are ‘Digitally Disengaged’ are more disadvantaged than ever and whilst the number is decreasing, it is still a huge chunk of the population. Over 11.9 million people (22%) lack all of the essential digital skills, and 4.1 million people are offline. 7.1 million people cannot open an app and 6 million people cannot even turn a device on.

If nothing is done to address this, 4.5 million (8% of the UK population) will still be offline in 2030, when they will be even more disadvantaged than those who are offline now. I’ll address this later.

In the workplace, 54% of people now use the internet, up from 47% last year. And this is likely to increase year-on-year. Yet more than half of the workforce (50% for full-time workers, 64% for part-time) lack the essential digital skills for work. This is something that needs to be addressed by the private sector, as well as government, as a startling 63% of working people have never received any digital skills training from their employers. By investing in their employees’ digital skills, businesses will be investing in their own future as the industries they work in increasingly rewards those who are digitally innovative.

A stat that might surprise you is that 48% of people offline are under 60 – it’s becoming an increasingly incorrect assumption to believe that all younger people are online and ready for a future of work in the digital economy. The North East, which has more NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training) young people than any other region, also has a higher proportion of ‘Digitally Disengaged’ people. It is those who come from a poorer socioeconomic background who are most likely to be digitally excluded, with 47% of those who are offline coming from low-income households.

Whilst some of the findings are concerning, I’m an optimist and believe this gives us the grounds to tackle digital exclusion and reap the benefits of a fully digital included nation. The report mentions that by 2030, 8% of the adult population will still be offline – and this is something that we need to address as a priority.

Last year, we published Blueprint for a 100% Digitally Included Nation, which sets out how we can ensure everyone is digitally included by 2028 – and one of the key actions is that employers need to do more to support their workforce – something that is backed up by today’s report

Another area both the Consumer Digital Index and our Blueprint reference is the challenge of motivation, or of making the internet relevant. Three quarters of offline adults say they have no interest in getting online, and of the offline population who say ‘nothing’ could get them online, 89% have cited cybersecurity and fraud concerns as the main barrier.  Although this stat is surprising, it is something that we can overcome. As I discussed earlier this month, the government are introducing their Online Harms White Paper to address some of the aspects of the internet which, to non-users, make it seems like the Wild West. And our Online Centres, and many others, are doing great work to tackle the barriers and support people to use digital safely.

At the launch event, we were lucky to be asked to run a session focussed on the stories behind the stats – whilst the stats presented in today’s report clearly make a huge impact, it’s the stories that really drive the message home. Whether it’s people like Jean from Thanet, who is retired and was really frightened about “someone pinching [her] identity” online, but is now confidently using digital, and seeing the huge benefits it can provide. Or Shirley, who was very cautious about being online, until she took some Learn My Way classes which taught her how to stay safe online – and she has already identified a couple of scams.

To further the progress highlighted in Lloyds’ report today, we must address people’s fear and motivate them to see how digital can change their life for the better. We know this better than anyone as this is really our bread-and-butter, and alongside our partners – particularly in the Online Centres Network – we’re helping people break down the barriers they put up between themselves and a better, more digitally included, future.

So while the report does make for some depressing reading, it provides a real opportunity – the more we know, the more we can do. And with so many engaged and energetic people in one room this afternoon – and many more supporting this agenda across the country – I know we can tackle some of these barriers.

Digital exclusion in the UN report on UK extreme poverty and human rights

Yesterday the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, released a report on his two week visit to Great Britain and Northern Ireland – and it makes pretty difficult reading.

Philip Alston and his team visited the UK last year to find out more about poverty and human rights in the UK, and we were pleased to meet members of his team, and to share our own thoughts – particularly focussing on how digital can both exacerbate and overcome issues of poverty and exclusion, especially around the UK welfare system.  

Within the report, Professor Alston gets stuck into some of the issues we’ve raised about the digital capabilities for Universal Credit claimants to be able to fill out the forms. Highlighting the “digital first” nature of Universal Credit (although he later goes further to claim it is effectively “digital only”), Professor Alston writes “The British welfare state is gradually disappearing behind a webpage and an algorithm, with significant implications for those living in poverty”, and by assuming that all claimants have the digital skills needed to complete the form, the DWP “has built a digital barrier that obstructs access to benefits, and particularly disadvantages women, older people, people who do not speak English and persons with disabilities”

This is something we hear regularly from a lot of the 5,000 Online Centres in Good Things Foundation’s Online Centres Network, who are our hyperlocal community partners that are on the frontline in communities, helping to ensure that people don’t fall through the cracks when they need to apply for Universal Credit. This might be because they don’t have the skills they need, they don’t have access to the internet, or a device that makes filling forms in easy – and this is something that government doesn’t seem to have considered fully when implementing its flagship welfare reform policy

The report confirms this. There are 11.3 million in the UK who don’t have essential digital skills, and these people are the most likely to be socially excluded, with 90% of non-users being classed as disadvantaged. This includes people with poor health or a disability, people in social class DE, and people who left school before the age of 16.

It’s glaringly obvious that the digital first nature of Universal Credit means you need to have basic digital skills, however it is Universal Credit claimants who are least likely to have basic digital skills. This creates issues that just aren’t being adequately addressed.

Although the report references some of the support and funding that is being provided, particularly through Citizens Advice, to support Universal Credit claimants with digital, this is really only scratching the surface. Some of the hyperlocal organisations who are part of Good Things’ Online Centre Network are providing support day in, day out to access Universal Credit, and we know that friendly, familiar places in the community are those most likely to engage those who are digitally excluded. These organisations need supporting and funding fairly, to continue providing the help they have been providing, to those who most need it.

And that in itself is a point that we’ve been making repeatedly since the policy began rolling out – the digital first nature of UC presents a significant opportunity to tackle digital exclusion amongst claimants, and introduce them to the benefits of digital so they can do other things online too, like applying for work, saving money on their bills and learning more about the things that interest them. With the right support, digital welfare has the potential to be a force for good, but the proper digital assistance needs to be available. If not, we risk increasing poverty and reducing quality of life for those most in need of support. However, if proper support is given and we seize this chance to reach some of society’s most digitally excluded people, it could have the opposite effect. The report published as part of our ‘Bridging the Digital Divide’ campaign, shows a significant return on investment in digital skills. Providing everyone in the UK with the essential digital skills they need by 2028 will lead to a benefit of £15 for every £1 invested, and a net present value of £21.9 billion. Of this, the research estimates savings of £313m in employment benefits alone through a fully digital nation.

The UN Special Rapporteur’s report highlights some findings that will stop you dead in your tracks. However, we cannot afford to stop in trying to address the issues raised. If we are to better the life chances of those who are being left further and further behind, then we need to act and we need to act now. Whilst the report has been released during a very busy news week, I hope its blistering findings resonates and becomes the catalyst for the government and other groups to use digital as a ladder to help people climb out of poverty, improve their life chances and foster a more digital inclusive economy and society that isn’t just addressing the problems of today, but is ready for the challenges of tomorrow.

 

For Good Work we need to address inequalities: Future of Work

Yesterday I gave a speech at the Institute of the Future of Work’s Conference on “Setting the Vision: the Future of Work in Britain” in Westminster. The event was in collaboration with the APPG (All Party Parliamentary Group) on Inclusive Growth. Here is what I said.

 

Good Things Foundation is a social change charity that is driving social and digital inclusion. We work with thousands of hyperlocal partners, supporting excluded people to become digitally able and active and apply this to important aspects of their lives be it health or getting a job or grow financial resilience. Working to deliver good lives and good society.

We’ve supported over 2.8 million people, but I don’t want to start with a stat I want to start with the story of a real person and her own journey to digital and social inclusion. This shows the intersectionality between digital and social inclusion.

Carolyn Hill was unexpectedly made redundant. She was devastated. Her lack of work was compounded with debt, having left a partner who had put her into real financial difficulties. Carolyn needed a new job and knew she’d have to apply online but she didn’t know how. She didn’t even know how to turn a computer on, and waited for her children to come home from school to do job searches for her. Eventually, Carolyn got support from a local Liverpool community partner to learn new basic digital skills, and they helped her to learn how to manage her finances, and gave her volunteering opportunities. Carolyn got a job she loves – cleaning for Arriva.

To get to a society that prioritises good work we need to address persistent inequalities, and focus on three things: 1. Digital Equality. 2. The Power of Local. 3. Fixing the demand side.

1. Digital Equality

Working age adults in households in the poorest social economic groups are three times more likely to be non-internet users.

Digital is amazing, life enhancing, and beneficial, and as with so many other things it compounds inequality. Digital exclusion exacerbates social exclusion. And with over 11m people who are digitally illiterate, millions of people are at risk of being left further behind. The good news is we can do something about it.

We can achieve a 100% digitally included Britain, in a positive and purposeful way. Good Things Foundation is leading a partner campaign – Bridging the Digital Divide – calling on political parties and other organisations to help the UK become the most digitally included nation globally, ensuring we get 100% of the people in the UK thriving in a digital world by 2028. If we don’t then in ten years there will still be almost 7 million adults who remain excluded from our digital society.

I’m frustrated that our work only reaches a quarter of a million people a year when millions of people need support, but working in partnership, and working on collective solutions, I know we can achieve more.

2. The Power of local.

I believe that the big answers lie in large scale and system changes, and I believe we absolutely need local to be part of this. We talk about work being ‘hollowed out’ by disruption and technology; but it’s important to see that austerity has hollowed out many of our communities, and I don’t just mean high streets, I mean community organisations who no have no money and if they’re surviving often it’s because staff who were once paid are now volunteers. We must make it a priority to reverse this and make communities stronger again.

At Good Things Foundation, we work with thousands of hyperlocal community organisations, and our work shows the power of local – in valuing ownership by local community players, working across all sectors, using co-design to find solutions that meet needs, and delivering blended solutions (with both fabulous human beings + use digital tools for the heavy lifting, scaling, measurement, and quality).

This is “networked hyper local” – both bottom up and top-down models and action; being both in the heart of communities and here in Westminster.

Good work will depend on strong local communities – and we must reverse the current decline, we must believe in the power of local.

3. Fix the demand side (as well as supply side).

The recent Social Mobility Commission Report told us that 49% of the poorest adults have received no workplace training since leaving school, compared to 20% of the richest adults. This means those on low pay, or with a lower basic level of skills, are often trapped in low paying jobs, without the opportunity to upskill, and are being excluded from new opportunities. We can’t just fix the supply side and assume the ‘lifelong learner’ side will fix itself.

The people who really need good work, are also the same people who need lifelong learning. These are not the people who demand it, nor those who turn up when it’s provided.

The people I meet in our local community partners’ centres too often lack hope. They feel that they have been failed for decades, we’ve got to help him to believe that there is a better future – aspiration is important. We need to face up to the fact that many people have low learning confidence meaning they won’t just spontaneously look for learning opportunities. We need to focus not just on skillset but on mindset too.

Persistent inequality in learning cannot be fixed with just more “courses” by the same providers. We need to be innovative in the pathways we’re offering. We need to ensure we’re enabling and empowering so that people have the confidence, self efficacy, adaptability and a joy of learning so they can be resilient to all that they want to achieve in their working lives is possible.

We must make lifelong learning that is truly for everyone. We must work hard to reach the people least likely to engage. We need to motivate and inspire people to feel hope, to believe in themselves, to see the pathways for them to learning new skills, and to better participation in the decisions that affect them.

Carolyn didn’t just lack the skills she needed to apply for work online, she needed someone to believe in her, to understand the range of barriers she faced, to give her an opportunity to fix her finances and volunteer as well as learn basic digital skills. The support she got didn’t just give her a leg up to find work, but it made her a happier, healthier and better off human being, who is more connected to her community.

Warm words and a big vision is not enough – we need action and practical steps. We can use digital inclusion to help provide pathways, to reduce inequalities, and to shape a better future of work and make sure that everyone has access to good work and good lives.

Digital and the opportunities for driving social mobility

Yesterday, the Social Mobility Commission released their State of the Nation 2018-19 report, which painted a mixed view of social mobility in the UK.

It was disappointing to see that inequality is still such a huge issue in the UK, and one that doesn’t appear to be getting any better. As the report states, ‘being born privileged in Britain means that you are likely to remain privileged. Being born disadvantaged however, means that you may have to overcome a series of barriers to ensure that your children are not stuck in the same trap.’ This is something we see regularly through the work of our partners in communities throughout the UK. Inequality is rife, and it doesn’t appear to be getting any better.

The report highlights a huge issue in the workplace, with those from better off backgrounds almost 80% more likely to be in a professional job than people from working class backgrounds. And this is exacerbated by a vicious circle on disadvantage in terms of workplace skills –  49% of the poorest adults have received no training since leaving school, compared to 20% of the richest adults. This means those on low pay, or with a lower basic level of skills, are often trapped in low paying jobs, without the opportunity to upskill. This means they are being excluded from new opportunities.

The report makes two recommendations that I welcome:

  • Encouraging Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to work with the Department for Education on the Opportunity Areas programme; providing concentrated investment in the skills, jobs and infrastructure in these areas of low social mobility and low pay – and expanding the reach to more cold spots.
  • Encouraging employers and the Government to follow the action plan the Commission has set out in its January 2019 report on adult skills. In particular, the Government should equalise adult education funding with EU statistical averages and reduce the underspend of its adult education budget through more flexible funding structures.

We are keen to work with our partners in the Department for Education, and across Government, to support this activity. The Online Centres Network is already reaching those that are being left behind by more formal education. The network has supported over 2.5 million people to improve their basic digital skills since 2010, and over 80% of these people are socially excluded. The impact these improved skills have on individuals is significant, with 86% progressing to further learning, and 76% progressing to positive employment outcomes.

Like I said for last year’s Social Mobility Commission review, digital presents a huge opportunity to overcome some of the challenges of social mobility. We know that if you have no basic digital skills, you’re at a disadvantage in today’s world. You’ll struggle to search and apply for jobs, create a CV and to keep progressing within the workplace. Working age adults in households in the DE bracket are three times more likely to be non-internet users, despite them having the most to benefit from digital. And digital exclusion also exacerbates the poverty premium, as people on the lowest incomes can save £516 a year by being able to compare prices for goods and services. So it’s no surprise social mobility is grinding to a halt.

That’s why we’re calling on government and other partners to make a clear commitment to getting 100% of the nation digitally included through our Bridging the Digital Divide campaign. Last year, our Blueprint for a 100% Digitally Included Nation set out a 6 point action plan devised that would help address Britain’s stagnant social mobility and ensure that we can give digital skills to those who will benefit most. We’re keen to see free essential digital skills support for those who need it, delivered in the community so people can benefit from trusted faces in local places. We want to see employers take responsibility for 100% of their own staff having basic digital skills. And we want to make digital a social priority, bringing together social and digital inclusion to drive social change and help people to increase their confidence, self-efficacy and resilience.

Through closing the digital divide, we will be able to make it easier for those at the bottom of the ladder to climb up it. For the 52% of disadvantaged youths who leave school without a basic qualification and get stuck in low paid work, improving their digital skills will open up opportunities. For adult education – which has been in decline since 2010 – this would give it the much-needed shot in the arm. And for those whose jobs are set to become redundant due to the advent of automation, it will give them the ability to not just survive, but to thrive in a digital economy. Through this blueprint, and working alongside our partners, we hope we’ll be able to  press Ctrl+Alt+Delete on Britain’s stagnating social mobility.

We’re proud of our chair, Liz Williams, one of the Commissioners of the report. She is  tirelessly committed to social mobility and I know she and the other Commissioners will do all they can to ensure the recommendations in the report have real legs. And so, although the report makes for pretty bleak reading at times, it also presents a real opportunity to address social mobility in the UK, and to ensure that we level the playing field for the benefit of all.

 

Exciting innovations to support older people with technology

G’day! I’m currently working with our amazing team at Good Things Foundation Australia and whilst I have been here I’ve been reflecting a lot on the opportunities that digital technologies and services offers to older people. Here is Australia we’re working with local partners right across the country to support older Australians to thrive online through the Be Connected programme.

Recently, Good Things Foundation launched two fantastic guides; one was designed to help older people use the internet and the other explains how to use games to teach tablet skills. These are amazing resources which I think will help so many older people enjoy a better quality of life by unlocking their digital potential. These guides are excellent and, after a few minutes reading, virtually anyone will be able to give an older person a helping hand on their journey into using the internet or tablets. We’re going to adapt these guides so that they will be contextualised for Network Partners in Australia too.

When thinking of older people who are benefitting from using the internet, it makes me think of Edith who we worked with for Get Online Week a few years ago. She’ll be 91 now and she went from having low digital skills, to being an emailing, Skyping, digitally included superwoman! She found that her newly acquired digital skills have helped her to be able to manage her health and doctor’s prescriptions and she identified that, as she gets older and gets less mobile, the more useful her newfound digital skills will be. You can hear Edith’s story here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8FxIKCAJ0yI

The new guide which explores how games can help older people learn how to use tablets is particularly ingenious, in my opinion, and I’m really excited to see the results that come from it. 52% of non-internet users aren’t online because they don’t see the need or because “being online is not for people like them”, and this is particularly the case amongst the 65+ demographic. Perhaps this attitude can be overcome through games. Using technology for the first time can be frightening, but making the learning process fun could overcome that. If people don’t want to “learn” about the internet, playing games doesn’t feel like learning. Yet, by playing the games, they’re learning how to use a touch screen, how to correct a mistake and that it’s fine to experiment. You can also begin to establish peer support if one of you has the tablet and the other knows how to play the game. I can’t wait to see the results from this guide being used.

Seeing the incredible work being done through the Be Connected program here in Australia has also made me reflect on the benefits of digital skills for older people. Since launching in 2017, we’ve built a growing network of over 2,200 community organisations who empower older Australians to thrive in an increasingly digital world. The network is diverse and covers everything from libraries to retirement villages, computer clubs to cultural groups and community centres to men’s sheds. In a short space of time, we’ve already supported over 100,000 people and counting.

I think the story that best typifies the amazing impact Be Connected can have is the story of Valerine and Lindsay Davis. Val’s Parkinson’s disease diagnosis kick-started her into taking digital literacy classes at Lockyer Community Centre and her husband Lindsay, who was the coordinator of the local Parkinson’s support group, and wanted to keep up. Val started with embracing social media so that they could reconnect with family members and to upload and manage her photos.  What brought this example to mind is that Val’s husband Lindsay uses his newfound digital skills not just to check the weather from the Bureau of Meteorology’s website, but to play games too. I wonder how many more people, like Lindsay, will develop their digital skills through games as well as using other digital tools and services.

The new guides are an excellent read for anyone wanting to show older people how to use the internet, and you don’t need to be a computer expert to do it – if you’re confident using the internet, then you already know enough.

The guide to helping older people use the internet is available here: https://www.onlinecentresnetwork.org/sites/default/files/a6_your_guide_to_helping_older_people_use_the_internet.pdf

And the guide to using games to teach tablet skills is available here: https://www.onlinecentresnetwork.org/sites/default/files/a6_your_guide_to_using_games.pdf

If you’re in the UK and you’d like a hard copy of either of these booklets, please email hello@goodthingsfoundation.org

And we will be adapting these for use in Australia in the next few months.

And if you’ve read this far, here’s an unrelated but lovely photo of some art painted on huge grain silos that I saw last weekend in regional Victoria, Australia. This one is in Brim, and was painted by Guido van Helten. Amazing. Enjoy!

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Online Harms White Paper: Let’s tackle internet fears and help more people reach their digital potential

No-one is a bigger advocate of the wealth of opportunity that the internet offers than me. However, we do have to acknowledge that the internet also opens people up to risk. Technology evolves, transforms, and innovates at a speed that legislation just isn’t keeping up with. This why I am largely supportive of the hotly anticipated Online Harms White Paper, released earlier this week by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Home Office (what do you mean that “we don’t all hotly anticipate government white papers!?”)

This White Paper is the government setting out its policy to tackle “online harms” such as extremist content, “fake news” (or “disinformation”, as it’s referred to in the paper), child abuse and other elements of the internet that put many people off using it altogether. As a result of this White Paper, internet companies could be fined, or even blocked, if they fail to tackle issues on their platforms. They are hoping to do this through establishing an independent regulator who will draw up a code of practice and giving it the power to fine non-compliant companies – including possibly fining their chief execs – or block sites that break the rules.

There are concerns about freedom of speech implications, however, when looking at the paper from the view of encouraging digitally excluded people to get online and enacting social change through digital, it’s hard to see this as anything but a positive step forward.

It’s important that whilst online harms are taken seriously, that they are understood. One in five non-internet users don’t go online because they don’t trust the internet, or don’t feel it’s online or secure. The internet can be a frightening place, especially for those with low self-confidence in using technology. However, letting fear of the dangers of digital stop someone from using it or, in the case of parents, restricting childrens’ use, is counterproductive to their life chances and the potential for our society and our economy.

The benefits of digital far outweigh the dangers. The economy is becoming more reliant on digital and digital skills are increasingly becoming vital for competing in the job market – and on top of this, people can save £744 a year by just being online and being able to shop around better for goods and services. Those who are shutting themselves off from the online world are putting themselves at a disadvantage, and we need to tackle why some people are frightened of the internet and how we address these concerns.

One recommendation I’m particularly excited is the Empowering Users section, where Government sets out its plans to help people tackle online harms, through giving them the online media literacy to manage their own online safety. In this section, the needs of adults (and children) to be able to practice online safety are acknowledged

“However, for adults, there is insufficient messaging or resources covering online media literacy. There is a need for further work to address issues such as the sharing of disinformation, catfishing (i.e. luring someone into a relationship by means of a fictional online persona), attacks on women online (particularly public figures), and the differing needs of people with disabilities when navigating information.”

At Good Things Foundation, we know full well just what a concern online safety can be for people who are digitally excluded. Because of this, we’ve developed a number of internet safety courses on our Learn My Way platform, which helps people tackle online harms. We know better than anyone that media literacy support is incredibly helpful for adults for a number of reasons, and especially tackling online harms. If we want to truly unlock the potential that a fully digital UK could offer, then we need to bring about a society with higher levels of digital skills, and less technophobia  – an important pillar in bridging the digital divide, that we are so passionate about.

How digital can help you take control of your cash

This weekend I was listening to Money Box on BBC Radio 4 and a segment about the so-called “Challenger banks” (small, recently-formed, retail banks competing with larger banks) caught my eye… well, it caught my ear. This wasn’t just because I bank with Monzo and love it, but because it highlighted the amazing potential for people to use digital tools, such as banking apps, to take back control (probably not the best choice of words this week) of their finances. I have to admit, I initially started my account with them because they don’t charge you for spending from your card overseas or mark up the exchange rate, but I found they have a lot more to offer.

Monzo (other challenger banks are available!) boasts that half of their customers are under 30 and a further quarter is under 40. So, I am proudly of the 25% of over-40s who are giddy about the potential that smartphone-only banks, that give you real-time visibility and control of your cash, offers us all. I think it would be really useful if more demographics explored the empowering possibilities of digital banking. Especially that which challenges the status quo.

The way we are paying for things is transforming, and the biggest change is that we aren’t using change (or cash)! We’re tapping with our card or our phone. However, not using cash to pay for things can cause some people to develop negative behaviours with their money. Let me explain; You’re on a night out, you’ve taken some cash out to pay for drinks. When you run out of money you know it’s either time to go home or tackle the dreaded internal dilemma of “should I go to the cashpoint and get more cash out? How will I feel about this decision in the morning?” However, the number of establishments which actually take cash is dwindling. If you spend the night paying for things contactlessly (I’ve just made up a word) – not even entering your pin – it sometimes doesn’t even feel like you’re really spending money, does it? We all know what the result of that can be, spending a lot more than you should have done or wanted to.

The beauty of being able to see your finances in real time, and getting instant notifications when you’re spending money, is that it makes spending your money feel like you’re spending your money again! This allows people to tackle any negative behaviours they have developed around managing their money better in the age of contactless. Hopefully, it can stop the thinking that just because you cannot see physical currency leaving your pocket and going into the till, that it doesn’t mean it isn’t costing you.

One of the converts to the church of digital banking told Radio 4 “It has improved my relationship with money exponentially.” Being able to have realtime access and analysis allows him to budget based on how much money he actually has now, not on how much money he thinks he has. This has given him a sense that he now feels in full control of his money, and this is important. For too many people, especially people on low incomes, it is easy to feel like your finances are spiralling out of control and this can lead to getting loans to pay for everyday essentials and, ultimately, getting stuck in a debt trap. Payday loan users are typically on low incomes or unemployed and looking for work and 3 out of 4 payday loan customers take out more than one loan a year. Wouldn’t being able to grab their finances by the scruff of the neck through banking methods like this help them massively?

Another interesting aspect of these challenger banks is the ease of savings, another person on the show, who is a customer of Starling spoke of a scheme these banks do called “rounds ups”. Basically, every transaction he makes gets rounded up to the nearest £1 and the difference goes into a savings account, making it easier for people to build savings. You buy a £1.40 sandwich? 60p goes into savings. You spend 25p on a Fredo (although it should be 10p), 75p goes into savings! Recent data shows that 14 million working-age adults in the UK are not saving at all and the majority do not have a rainy day or savings pensions pot. The mean amount a UK household is putting just 1.7% of their income aside for savings. Encouraging people to save will help them save for their retirement, a rainy day or a special purchase.

Another bonus of some of the new kids on the banking block is the flexibility and immediateness of applying. There aren’t lengthy credit checks and there isn’t the need to go into a branch and have a meeting. Whilst there will always be a desire for people to have a personal relationship with their bank in person, it is becoming harder-and-harder to do so. Nearly two-thirds of the country’s banks and building society branches have closed over the past 30 years.

Another opportunity they offer to help you manage is your finances, is that you don’t need to have empty jam jars full of cash dotted around the house, assigned to different expenses – these apps allow you to digitally separate your money into “pots” only to be spent on certain things, to help you budget better. This has struck me as particularly useful for people who have accidentally found themselves in rent arrears following the roll-out of Universal Credit, being able to just keep some ringfenced to pay vital bills.

It’s clear that people who struggle to keep control of their finances are the ones who can benefit the most from these developments in banking, however, these are often the very same people who have low digital and financial capabilities. Non-internet users are more likely to be in the social classes DE, older and/or have left education earlier. There are 17 million people in the UK with low financial capability and 1.4 million people with both low financial and digital capabilities.

So how do we get the people who will benefit most from these innovations over the hurdles that are stopping them? To answer this I was looking at a project we were doing at Good Things Foundation, in partnership with the Money Advice Service, where we built up a financial capability course, giving structure and support for people to make their first online transaction. Whilst it’s not strictly the same as getting into online banking, it could be seen as the first step on this path and the fears around online banking and online transactions are very similar; people don’t know what they’re doing, people fear they’re going to get ripped off and people just don’t feel confident enough to get into it.

We found from the project that, if you help someone to make an online transaction, they are more likely to make a transaction again independently. We did a Randomised Control Trial where we gave people 8 weeks of financial capability classes through our Online Centres and found that the group who had been assisted with an online transaction saw their financial capability improve by 18-38% compared to just 12-22% of people who didn’t and they were 6.5 times more likely to make an online transaction again in the future. Perhaps then a logical hypothesis is that through supporting people to use smartphone-only banks, that they are more likely to embrace these opportunities for improved financial health.

Being able to make transactions online saves money and, as a result, stabilises peoples’ finances. Whereas, the inability being able to save money online exacerbates “the poverty premium”. Shopping online for bank accounts can’t just save you money, it can sometimes makes you money.  However, people remain frightened, and understandably so, The ratio of media coverage of negative aspects of online transactions compared to the positive aspects must be about 1000:1! That is why it is good to support people in their first forays into online banking, answering their fears, giving them safety tips, and showing them that online banking isn’t a dark dystopia where they are helpless to fraudsters, but an opportunity for them take the reins of their finances.

We also found through our project with the Money Advice Service that our Online Centres are particularly useful places to as they do not abandon clients when it is no longer financially viable to continue supporting their learning, giving them open-ended support as, even the most computer literate amongst us, always find a question they don’t know the answer to.

I, and many others, are living proof that these banks aren’t just for twenty-somethings to easily ping over £25 to their mate for a concert ticket. They offer great potential for improving people’s financial health, whether it’s by making it easier to budget or curbing carefree consumption. However, for society to reap the full benefits that these innovations offer, we need to make sure that people who need better financial control can build up the digital skills to be able to access these opportunities.