Building back better for financial health

Community Manager Naomi Alexander Naidoo shares how Lab community members are building back better from the COVID-19 crisis to support financial health across the UK.

On 3 September, the Lab hosted an online event showcasing how Lab community members are helping to build back better from COVID-19. Following an event earlier this year showcasing community responses to the crisis, this event brought together 40 community members to hear from five financial health pioneers, including several Lab Fellows from our Financial Health Fellowship and winners of our For The Better award.

Here is an overview of the initiatives presented, and some of the key elements of building back better to protect and support financial health. You can watch a recording of the event here.

1. The potential of community banking

Our first presenter was Financial Health Fellow Fionn Travers-Smith, who presented Avon Mutual – a new regional, social and mutual bank for the Bristol region and For The Better awardee. Fionn explained how, unlike in the US and other European countries, the UK has no co-operative or regional stakeholder banks, and a tiny community finance sector. In fact, co-operative banks were illegal until 2014. Avon Mutual is one of a number of community banks now in development around the UK, including Southwest Mutual, led by Lab Senior Fellow Tony Greenham, Banc Cambria in Wales and North West Mutual.

Through building banks that are rooted in local communities and governed by their customers – rather than shareholders – the community banks demonstrate a model of banking which truly serves people and planet, and prioritises the financial health of financially excluded citizens, lending to underserved markets including SMEs and green transition projects, and contributing to community wealth building. Avon Mutual is currently progressing with securing their bank license and fundraising. Follow their progress here.

2. Protecting access to cash

Community banks share a key concern with another of our presenters: protecting access to cash and bank branches. Duncan Cockburn, founder of OneBanks, shared how COVID-19 has accelerated the transition to digital that was already happening, with 3,372 bank and building society branches closing from 2015-2019. This seriously damages the financial health of many of the most vulnerable members of our society, as they are forced to travel further to access banking services, can no longer rely on cash-based approaches to saving and budgeting, and in some cases are completely excluded from financial services. Moreover, research consistently shows that access to cash matters to people, especially those on low income: 67% of SMEs think they would exclude customers if they didn’t accept cash.

To bring back face-to-face banking, OneBanks are establishing kiosks in areas that have suffered from bank branch closures. Conveniently located in locations at the heart of communities – such as supermarkets, train stations or town halls – the kiosks use Open Banking to connect users to all of their bank accounts. The kiosks will be staffed, free to use and designed for accessibility. In this way, OneBanks are reversing the trend away from in-person banking and protecting it for those who need it most.

3. Tailored approaches to personal finance

Core to our understanding of financial health, is putting people first and asking: how can financial services be designed to work with a person’s life circumstances, wants and needs, rather than trying to fit the person into the existing financial system? Two presenters shared how they are doing just that with tailored approaches to personal finance.

Financial health Fellow Andres Korin advocated for ‘life-stage’ finance,  where financial service providers invest in a deep understanding of the circumstances of their customers and how they may change, and design tailored products and services to meet the needs of those circumstances. His solution, StorkCard, focuses on supporting parents with the financial shock of having and raising a child, which has become substantially more pertinent due to the financial instability caused by COVID-19. StorkCard helps parents see and manage big costs that are coming up, access retail discounts and tailored products, and share relevant information with family and friends.

Prioritising the circumstances of each individual is also fundamental to the approach of Fair Money Advice – the winner of our 2020 For The Better Award.  Managing Director Muna Yassin gave an overview of their user-focused services in London, including bespoke debt and money advice and long-term financial capability support. Chiming with Andres’ comments, she explained that there are ‘teachable moments’ in our financial lives where immediate, urgent needs must be met, but also that the foundations of long-term financial habits and practices can be put in place. In line with the co-design approach of Lab Fellowship, Muna highlighted the importance of embedding insights from lived experience into their service to build engagement, help to remove stigma and ensure the effectiveness of services. She also stressed that as finance becomes increasingly digitised, barriers to using technology become a key element of peoples financial health.

4. Collaboration

Finally, Lab Fellow Maysam Rizvi shared how his team at Elifinty launched the coronavirus lighthouse: a hub of information and resources about personal finance and related challenges. They learnt that there is a lot of low-quality financial literacy material in the public domain, and a lack of information-sharing across the sector. To rectify this, they are transitioning the coronavirus lighthouse into moneyAcorns – a financial literacy platform which will continue to pool and offer high-quality resources and training with relevance beyond COVID-19. Maysam highlighted that people who have never before accessed support now need it – so clarity and accessibility of information is of vital importance. For this, collaboration across the financial system is key. The Lab will continue to support community members to connect and collaborate to build back better.


If you would like to connect with any of the initiatives mentioned, please email naomi@financeinnovationlab.org. To be the first to know about future community events, sign up to the Lab community here.