Designing Technologies for Financial Inclusion

Timeframe: 2010-

Over the last decade, there has been a growing awareness that the banking infrastructure and financial service provision in the UK and other countries in the global north poorly support the needs and values of marginalised groups. The team at Northumbria’s School of Design have been engaged in a range of connected projects examining this issue from the perspective of different groups who are often excluded from accessing financial services.

Between 2010 and 2012, Mark Blythe and John Vines worked on a research project funded by the EPSRC titled New Approaches to Banking for the Older Old. The research on this project, conducted in collaboration wit researchers at the University of York, Newcastle University, Age UK and Barclays Bank, examined the financial practices and biographies of people in their eighties. Through a deep understanding of their experiences of money throughout their lives – in particular their practices of handling, managing, tracking and sharing their finances – we understood why existing financial technologies fail to support what this age group value. We designed a range of prospective new digital financial services based on the learning from this work – including proxy bank accounts that allow third parties (friends, family, carers) temporary trusted access to a bank account, and paper cheques that were digitally and automatically processed.

On the back of this project, further research funded by the TSB was conducted by John Vines with Paul Dunphy (now at OneSpan) looking at the problems people living on very low incomes had in managing their finances and negotiating standard banking services provided by the large incumbent banks. From this work we identified a range of alternative design sensitives related to delaying, prioritising, planning, watching, and hiding “digital money”.

More recently, Belen Barros Pena has been conducting research as part of her PhD funded by the AHRC on how the dominant digital banking infrastructure fails to support financial collaboration and informal exchange between people. Her research is focusing specifically on the experiences of people living with mental health conditions, and the specific problems they face in collaborating around their finances with loved ones and friends and family and carers who support them in keeping their finances on-track.