In 2019 QSA secured a grant from the Good Things Foundation's Power Up Initiative to deliver Up to Speed in east London.
Up to Speed has been led by our Made of Money team and delivered in partnership with the Bromley-by-Bow Centre. The project will have worked with around 180 households in Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Newham, supporting them to improve their confidence around financial and digital skills.
How we approached the project and what it did
Up to Speed drew upon Made of Money's fifteen years' prior experience of supporting financial wellbeing amongst families living on low incomes in east London and elsewhere. The approach was to use small group-based and one-to-one support to enable individuals to recognise the particular factors that affect their own financial and digital behaviour; this recognition is a crucial first step to people overcoming their fears, gaining confidence, and applying the practical skills that they would learn through the project.
However Up to Speed was new for the Made of Money team because it explictly incorporated digital skills within the financial capability support. The interconnectedness of financial and digital skills was the premise of the Good Things Foundation's Power Up inititiative, which funded the project with money from J.P. Morgan. We wanted to be part of this initiative because we recognise that so many financial services need to be accessed online.
The core offer of Up to Speed was a four-week financial wellbeing course, supported by new resources with digital skills embedded, plus participants were offered individual support. Topics included online safety, online banking, navigating online Universal Credit accounts, and apps that support saving.
Adapting to the pandemic
Provision changed at the start of the pandemic: delivery of the courses moved from face-to-face to online or over the phone, and more one-to-ones than groups. We shortened the sessions as participants had less time available and concentration proved harder online. We developed half hour long ‘Digital Fit’ sessions on specific topics relevant to participants, such as switching utility providers, staying safe online and using comparison sites. Initially some participants did not have the skills to be able to join an online course, so we ran short sessions to get people’s skills up to the right level.
We also made support calls to people who were isolated; helped people to engage with friends and family using apps on their smart phones; and helped with non-financial matters such as booking a vaccination or completing the census.
A shared learning experience
The course was highly interactive, with resources and activities designed to encourage conversation and opportunities to share existing knowledge and skills as well as learn more. The sessions provided space and time for participants to talk about feelings and thoughts on using technology to manage their finances.
Digital and financial skills are part of everyday life, so each person will have developed their own ideas from their life experiences; an informal, conversational approach allows people to consider what they know already and to share that knowledge with peers. This builds confidence and helps people to see what the next steps are and what they need to learn.
Impact of Up to Speed
The project aimed to increase confidence in managing online accounts, including Universal Credit accounts, and in using digital or online resources for money management.
- 63% of participants who responded to the impact survey learnt how to carry out financial transactions online and 54% how to use online banking.
- Nine in ten respondents said they understood how digital tools could help manage finances and planned to use them in the future.
- 87% felt more confident in their ability to use digital tools to manage their finances.
People also said that they felt safer online, and had increased knowledge of where to go for help online.
Barriers, and how Up to Speed helped people overcome them
The biggest barrier we encountered to using technology was fear. Many people did not feel safe managing finances online. This fear related to being scammed, and of their money not being safe online. We developed resources and activities to allay these fears, for example, identifying suspicious emails or texts and outlining safe practices.
It is pleasing that in the impact survey nearly 90% of respondents said they had learnt how to stay safe online and knew how to protect their personal data.
Made of Money has long recognised the role that emotions and feelings play in shaping our financial decisions. We learned that it is similar with digital skills: the biggest block was fear. We gave people the chance to speak about these fears, so they realised that others feel the same. We enabled people to overcome their anxieties by giving clear guidelines on how to stay safe and by supporting people step-by-step through particular activities they found difficult.
What we learnt
Digital skills are crucial in modern society. However, learning them requires a purpose, and financial wellbeing provides this. So for us, embedding digital means giving a purpose to learning digital skills. Specifically, this has meant supporting people to use the various online tools, websites and apps that are available to help manage finances.
For many people we worked with, improving digital skills was not their initial priority, but the pandemic changed this. Many faced isolation and practical difficulties which motivated them to try out technology. For example, online banking or shopping as banks closed and shops had severely reduced operating hours.
Skills must be relevant to a person’s life. Some may not be specifically about finances but are pre-cursors for accessing financial services online - for example, setting up an email account.
Our biggest learning was around the different ways people are digitally excluded. We had anticipated a lack of equipment, but we learnt that people’s inability to afford enough data and connectivity is also a major cause of exclusion.
We are reviewing our Made of Money service to include the ideas, resources and learnings from Up to Speed, in order to embed digital skills as part of our financial wellbeing work permanently. Shortly we hope to have the opportunity to return to face to face delivery. Our aim is to develop a blended service that uses face-to-face groups along with online learning. Many of the resources we have created are available electronically and in hard copy, so our service will be more flexible.