How fintech tools can help those with mental health problems

By Katie Evans, Head of Research and Policy at Money and Mental Health, September 5, 2017.

Since starting Money and Mental Health 18 months ago, we’ve taken dozens of meetings with fintech startups. For some people, that probably seems like an odd thing for a charity focusing on breaking the link between financial difficulty and mental health problems to do. But our initial research, a survey of 5,500 people with mental health problems, showed with startling clarity how mental health problems can make managing money and controlling spending much harder, as well as affecting our ability to earn. As a result, people experiencing mental health problems are three times as likely to be in financial difficulties – and we think fintech could be part of the solution.

Mental health problems can affect the way our brains work – which can make it harder to engage with our finances, to remember when bills are due or to keep track of how much we’ve spent.

For people with mental health problems who find their financial capability is affected, relatively simple fintech tools could do a lot to help. And, happily, many of the types of tools, processes and settings that could support both financial and mental wellbeing are already out there.

Money management apps that help you identify regular bills and set the money aside could make it easier to make money last through the month, avoiding the stress of going without essentials. For people really struggling to manage spending, the ability to set spending limits on cards or block transactions at set times could be life-changing, helping people with serious illnesses like bipolar disorder to avoid chronic debt.

For some people, these supportive apps might not be enough. But behind the scenes, fintech could help again. This could be by creating ways to support decision-making and check understanding when someone is taking credit out online, analysing transactions data to spot early signs of financial distress, or creating pathways that allow people share financial decision-making with a trusted friend when they’re not well enough to manage themselves.

Though relatively simple, all of these ideas could – if well-designed, in conjunction with people with lived experience of mental health problems – offer ways to support a person’s financial autonomy and wellbeing, and help to break the cycle between financial difficulty and poor mental health.

There is a risk, however, that if developers don’t pay attention to the needs of under-served communities and vulnerable customers, that fintech could develop in an entirely less positive way – making it easier for the affluent and active consumers to get a good deal, while those who struggle to engage with financial services continue to face poorer service for higher fees. At its worst, fintech could worsen inequality, be discriminatory or disempowering, or stigmatising.

Our conversations with fintech providers, however, have left us optimistic. Most people are really keen to think about how the products they’re building could help the one in four of us experiencing a mental health problem at any given time. The main barrier seems to be a lack of understanding of how mental health can affect our ability to manage our finances – which is why Money and Mental Health have been trying to fill the gap.

We hope that TechCity UK’s Fintech for All competition will encourage even more innovators to think about how what they’re building could support people experiencing mental health problems. We can’t wait to see what’s out there that could help people to stay in control of their finances when they’re unwell, reducing financial difficulty and ultimately improving mental health for all of us. Good luck with your entries!

Apply here for the Fintech For All Competition