The Lab community responds to COVID-19
The Lab’s Community Manager Naomi Alexander Naidoo takes a look at some of the vital work that Lab community members are doing to support people, families and communities with the financial impacts of the pandemic, and continue to build a financial system that serves people and planet through and beyond the crisis.
The response from the Lab community to the COVID-19 crisis has been phenomenal. Across the financial innovation ecosystem, from fintech founders to frontline financial health charity workers and purpose-driven finance professionals, we have seen the repurposing of products, pivoting of plans and development of new tools at immense scale and speed. To showcase some of this work, on 23 April we hosted our first online community event: Financial Innovation, Community and COVID-19. We convened over 50 community members to hear about five financial innovations that are being developed in response to COVID-19, and had smaller group discussions on questions related to each project.
Here is an overview of the initiatives presented, and other impressive innovations that Lab community members are developing. You can watch a recording of the event here.
1. Financial health and support
The effects of the pandemic on the financial health of Britons has been staggering, severe and sudden. Moreover, the impacts have been uneven – with the already financially vulnerable hit the hardest and, as Citizens Advice have found, millions driven to a ‘financial cliff edge.’
The financial health organisations in our community have been quick to respond. The first speaker at our event, Karl Bunyan of Wagestream, shared how they have rapidly adapted their offering in response to the crisis. Wagestream is a fintech offering their clients’ employees access to earned income. In the past few months, they have extended this support to furloughed income, introduced immediate access to overtime wages and automated statutory sick payments. They have also built communication tools for employers and resource databases for workers, started offering a fast-track onboarding process for new customers that need these services, and waived fees for NHS trusts. Through this suite of services, Wagestream have mitigated the financial hardship caused by the pandemic for thousands of workers.
We were also joined by Lee Healey, founder of IncomeMax. For over ten years, IncomeMax have done brilliant work providing face-to-face benefit and money advice to help people struggling with their finances to maximise their income. With the advent of social distancing, IncomeMax have moved all their services online and over the phone, and are continuing to help people to get more money in their pockets in these new and difficult circumstances. Through doing this work in these uncharted territories, Lee recognised that there was a need for greater collaboration across the money and debt advice sector to share and pool resources, interpret government guidance and ensure high quality support for citizens. As a result, he launched Income Chat, a new webinar connecting and supporting the debt and money advice sector. To find details about the upcoming webinars and how to sign up, follow IncomeMax on Twitter.
There are many other fantastic financial health initiatives happening in the community, too. In the context of rapidly changing advice and support, clear information and resource banks have become incredibly important. To respond to this need, Lab Fellows Elifinty launched the Coronavirus Lighthouse, a hub of information and resources to support with the financial impacts of COVID-19 and gather feedback on government support schemes. Others are widening access to their services. For example, Lab community members Moneyhub are offering their app free for six months and Ferret have made their complex benefits calculators free for the duration of the crisis. Some are even developing completely new services, such as Covid Credit – a proof of concept using Open Banking to help self-employed people prove loss of income, built by collaboration between fintechs in 48 hours.
2. The role of responsible credit
Responsible finance providers, like credit unions and community development finance institutions (CDFIs), have decades of experience providing fair and affordable loans and financial wellbeing assistance, and are key in supporting the financial health of people and small businesses through and after the crisis.
Lab Fellow Adrian Davies, co-founder of NestEgg presented on how credit unions are helping their members to navigate the financial challenges posed by coronavirus, and how the NestEgg software is enabling them to unlock data about the financial challenges that their members are facing. NestEgg are now launching a consumer mobile app that will take users through a five step plan to maintain and improve their financial health through the difficulties of the pandemic. You can read more about this work here.
NestEgg’s presentation illuminated just some of the fantastic work that is happening across the responsible finance sector. As this report by our friends at the Centre for Community Finance Europe demonstrates, ‘credit unions, both large and small, are doing everything in their power to support their members and communities through this difficult time.’ Other parts of the affordable credit sector are similarly geared for action. The trade body Responsible Finance has written a letter to the UK government, co-signed by the Lab, highlighting the capability and capacity for CDFIs to deliver support to the people who need it most. Meanwhile, Lab community members Lendoe, a social lender serving underserved entrepreneurs, are refocusing their efforts to build the capacity of community lenders and, in particular, repurposing their existing tech to streamline the application and lending processes of CDFIs.
3. Harnessing data
Responsibly harnessing the power of data-driven finance to serve people and planet has been a priority area of work for the Lab for several years, and was the theme of Lab Fellowship 2019. This work has become even more important and urgent in the context of COVID-19, as more services become predominantly or wholly digital. So, we were really excited to be joined by Jo Kerr, Director of Impact and Innovation at Turn2Us, who presented a new collaborative data analysis project to understand the changing needs of people and communities in order to inform policy and service provision. Turn2Us are working with several poverty and food bank charities to share information and identify gaps, with data-sharing support from the Open Data Institute and Datakind UK. You can read more about the initial thinking behind the project here, and support Turn2Us’s efforts to provide cash grants to people affected by COVID-19 by donating to their coronavirus appeal.
4. Building back better
Finally, as well as dealing with the immediate financial impacts of the crisis, the Lab community has been working on how we continue to work towards a financial system that serves people and planet through and after it. Lab Fellows Dave Darby and Dil Green of Open Credit Network shared their vision of how mutual credit can not only support small businesses to survive the pandemic, but also help communities to build resilient, local post-crisis economies by enabling zero-interest trade between businesses. They are looking for tech and community collaborators to help them make this happen – find out more here. Community members Quipu are also working on a similar solution for Latin America.
As Lab Senior Fellow Gemma Bone Dodds has written ‘we have an opportunity to build back better’ and, while the future remains exceptionally uncertain, the drive and determination of all the presenters and participants at our first online community event made one thing clear – the Lab community has every intention of doing it.
We would love to hear about what other responses to COVID-19 are developing in the financial innovation ecosystem and how we can help. If you’re working on responses to the current crisis and its financial impacts, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. To be the first to know about future community events, sign up to the Lab community here.