Finance needs a quiet roar of change more than ever

Iona Bain

Disruption – what does it mean? If you’ve been a traveller with Northern Rail, a way of life, I imagine.

But in the corporate word, it has started to lose its meaning. Disruption can become a brand enhancement exercise – hey, if we employ enough lumbersexuals with lattes, or manic pixie dream girls with “We Should All be Feminist” t-shirts and get our employees to form a ukelele orchestra, we’re getting down with the kids and making change happen! Yea!

All too often this can actually mask a deeply conventional workplace culture, which filters down into a “same old, same old” pattern of tired products and out-of-touch service.

Few industries are guiltier of this stagnation than the financial sector. Don’t get me wrong. Financial folks have come on leaps and bounds (spurred on by the more Fintecchy outfits, of course). But many tired ideas and practices still persist.

I still see astonishingly crude attempts to guilt-trip young people into saving for a pension. Doesn’t work! And most financial marketing is still aimed at the traditional media, aka an older captive audience. *blows a raspberry*

And what about the jargon and tortuous language that Mary Beard would have to present a BBC4 programme to unravel?

I could go on, but instead, I want to defer to more experienced folks, whose views I soaked up avidly at a fascinating event held by the consultancy Quiet Room earlier this summer.

The idea behind the event was to host three speakers from outside the world of pensions to offer their thoughts on disruption, what it means to them and how it could be applied to perennial dilemmas like…how we get more young people thinking about their financial future.

The speakers were:

  • Lara Carmona, an associate director at the Royal College of Nursing 
  • Laura Willoughby MBE, the social entrepreneur behind Move Your Money, a campaign encouraging people to switch banks, and Club Soda, a mindful drinking movement
  • Luay Alfaham, the communicator responsible for the CyberAware campaign at the Home Office.

The nuggets of wisdom were too numerous to mention in one blog but here’s what came through:

Truly innovative ideas, a clear-headed approach and fresh styles of communication could be all that’s needed to help my generation get on top of their finances, once and for all.

The biggest insights that Lara offered when it comes to her 18 – 25 year old workforce is that they care about employability, social purpose and getting a job.

And Laura’s first campaign – Move Your Money – brilliantly recognised that regulation had let consumers down, so it was a movement that wanted to empower people to be more in control of their money.

This is not dissimilar to what YMB is trying to achieve!

Like Move Your Money, YMB is all about helping people, not aggressively scaling up a business. It’s a movement that’s about triggering (or at least promoting) behaviour change.

❓But it’s also our job to ask questions. Club Soda asks questions like: why don’t pubs serve people more non-alcoholic drinks?  

❓Questions I like to ask are: why don’t young people receive better financial education at school and in the workplace? Why aren’t they given more choice and information about their long-term money?

Laura says:

Changing your drinking habits is hard. It goes against social norms where drinking is an acceptable way to wind down, celebrate or get through difficult occasions. It’s a big no-no to bring it up at dinner parties. But as with Move Your Money, people want to know about it and take you to one side and ask “so what bank should I switch to?” The answer being – there isn’t really any I would recommend and that’s part of the problem. Everything is fighting against you, including our social cues which make us believe large amounts of drinking (or being bad with money) is normal and acceptable.

Laura argues that we have to create an environment and movement that helps people feel they’re no alone because all else, people want to feel normal and like they’re part of a community.

And just like we have to bust the myth that being sober is boring, we also have to break the idea that money management is all about spreadsheets, numbers and Zzzzzzzzzssss….but when you’re starting from a low bar and aiming for that big shift, you’ve got to tackle the absolute roots of the problem first.

Like Club Soda, Young Money Blog is on a mission to improve young people’s self-efficacy. We don’t WANT to tell young people what to do – we want to help people to reach the goals they have set for themselves.

Over the next few months, you’re going to see a *lot* more in the way of helpful info/resources, advice on building useful skills and brilliant mind hacks that will hopefully get to the heart of being good with money. We want to play our part in helping young people become more confident so they can take riskier decisions that will ultimately benefit their finances (and lives!)

As part of this we want to work with YOU. If you have ideas about what we can do for you, get in touch. What are your burning questions around money? What kind of approaches do you see in other areas of life that really work for you?

I’m also hoping that we can change the unhelpful language that often surrounds money. For instance, Club Soda doesn’t use the recovery model, nor does it describe people as “dry” or “abstinent”.

Instead, people are alcohol-free. Maybe we can abolish the words “capable” or “literate” (eugh) and instead embrace “moneywise” or “mindful money” instead?

And we could try to create a far greater sense of URL and IRL community through clubs ‘n’ hubs (the investment clubs of yesteryear could be reinvented for today’s young workers, suggests Laura).

There is a lot for me personally to learn from. The Young Money Blog has experimented with many approaches over the years and will continue to do so. It has achieved huge successes on a shoestring budget, a non-profit philosophy and pure word-mouth.

But as the blog grows, I hope it can become more and more of a consumer activist movement. For that to be possible, I need to be heeding the following as much as the financial sector.

💡We have to identify the real problem. What are the issues facing gen Y? Some of them may be faux-problems – not being able to get on the housing ladder may be a blessing in disguise in some circumstances (and specifically, certain parts of the country where housing prospects are mixed), but actually having zero savings both now and later in life is objectively Not Good. We all need to do our homework – we need to suss out what we’re actually trying to change.

💡Ask the people we’re hoping to help. What do they worry about? What are the problems affecting their lives that you might be able to change? We need to ask people what their goals are, not decide on their behalf, and allow them to really “own” those goals. Take on feedback so we can improve the way we do things (obvious but fundamental). Being too close to the issues (or at least the technical response to these issues) might lead you to over-complicate things. Which leads onto the need to…

💡Interrogate your facts. Make sure you can provide specific examples and description of the impact.

💡Make it personal! Tailor your advice as much as you can (within reason) so people know the decisions they are taking are the right ones for them.

💡Aim at your target – and go for different levels, from macro and systemic right down to the individual.

💡Refer. Sometimes (no, change that – VERY often) we don’t hold all the answers. We’ve got to get better at referring to other trusted sources when appropriate.

💡Check your privilege! Something I’m constantly trying to remind myself, as a non-disabled white middle class gal who wants to act for as many as poss but realises I can’t completely do this unless I…

💡Co-produce. We all have to get much better at handing the creative reins over to people who know far more about their own life experiences than outsiders.

💡Don’t tell people what to do. Focus on behaviour change, helping people who want to help themselves and crystallising their goals and dreams for the future.

💡Inspire each other through “tribes” and the power of movements. Allow people to share their expertise, their strategies, their hacks for achieving their goals.

💡Use loadsa carrot. Support self-efficacy over time with consistent, reliable services, real world interactions that sustain morale and ongoing recognition and rewards for achievement.

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