5 min read

Financial Services and Mental Health

Laura Watkins

1st February was Time to Talk Day, a day dedicated to mental health awareness, and opening up the conversation around it in the aim of removing the stigma. The mantra behind the day is that mental health affects us all and it’s time to talk about it.

Opening up the conversation around mental health

In conjunction with this worthy cause, on Fintech Insider, Simon Taylor chaired a panel discussing financial services and mental health. We wanted to look into the very real link between financial health and mental health, and what can be done to improve this, as well as opening up the conversation about mental health in general to remove the stigma around discussing mental health in the workplace. The panel was formed of Ghela Boskovitch, FCA’s Nick Cook and Jo Ann Barefoot alongside subject matter expert, James Routledge co-founder of Sanctus, an organisation specifically challenging perceptions of mental health, with the aim of normalising conversations around mental health and how workplaces can better accommodate this. Listen to the full discussion here or stream it below.

Everyone has mental health

To kick us off James highlights the fact that everyone has mental health, just as we all have health, mental health is not something only the afflicted have, and everyone is on a spectrum. Likewise he gave us an overview of the struggles people have with mental health in the workplace: “mental health is just so pervasive across every industry, every type of person, and that's from startups to law to banking to PR, you name it, we've all got mental health, and whatever industry we work in affects our mental health in a certain way.” In his view the responsibility of addressing any issues that arise from mental health sit with both employers and the employees. “The employer has a responsibility. But, at the end of the day, it's your mental health, and you've got a responsibility to open up, as well”.
"we've all got mental health, and whatever industry we work in affects our mental health in a certain way.” - James Routledge

Leading from the top

James tells us that the biggest things employers can do to help their staff open up about mental health and alleviate any stigmas within the company is to lead from the top, where business leaders take an active interest in the subject of mental health and even publicly open up themselves. The best example of this he’s seen, is within the fintech sector, and is Transferwise, where CEO Taavet showed a public interest on stage at an event. “That sends such a huge message, that this CEO, leader, in your business, thinks not only is it important for himself, but actually, it's important that everyone in the business takes care of it.” He says this is a hugely positive message for when these companies are also hiring, as it shows that employees are valued for their talent but also looked after when they’re not in a good place too. “In tech, and maybe in fintech, it's an extremely competitive industry, for talent, if you're looking to recruit and retain the best technical talent, then showing to potential candidates, or hires, that, 'Look, we care about you, your mental health is welcome here, as well as all the other amazing perks that we have,' I think that sends a really, really strong message.”
"Showing to potential candidates that, 'we care about you, your mental health is welcome here' I think that sends a really, really strong message.” - James Routledge

Mental health and financial health

Turning neatly into the subject of financial services, Jo Ann Barefoot makes the hugely valid point that there is a strong connection between mental health, actual health and finances. This is supported by Nick Cook who says that in a piece of research conducted by a partner of the FCA, of those surveyed 70% said that any difficulties with their mental health had led to a deterioration in their financial position, and similarly in the reverse, their worsening financial position had, for over 80% of them, made them more strained, mentally. In essence, mental health problems tend to make people either over-spend or lose control of their finances, and likewise if their finances take a dip there is often a corresponding dip in their mental health, through stress or anxiety caused by it.
"There's such a connection between mental health and finances, and I think if we think together about it, as one set of human issues, we do better." - Jo Ann Barefoot
But what is the answer? As James succinctly puts it, there is no “one-size-fits-all solution, if there was a pill or a book to read, we'd have all read it, or we'd have all taken it, and it doesn't exist.” We shouldn’t be looking for an all encompassing solution that solves everything for everyone, because we’re all different and what works for one won’t necessarily work for all: “mental health is an extremely personal, intimate topic to all of us, and what works for me is going to be so different to anyone else in this room, or listening to this podcast.”

Frictionless financial services and UX

The panel discuss how financial service products are beginning to develop their UX around their customers’ mindset, rather than just the beneficial outcome to themselves. They are beginning to create so-called “frictionless services” to help us keep better track of our finances. In Jo Ann’s words: “ innovators are creating this huge number of new tools to help people just manage our lives more simply, and know whether or not we are financially healthy [...] leveraging technology, not to be the entire solution, but to bring a set of new ways of thinking in to this whole space.”
Innovators are creating this huge number of new tools to help people just manage our lives more simply, and know whether or not we are financially healthy." - Jo Ann Barefoot
Nick also mentions how some products are beginning to offer “opt-in” controls to take over control of your finances as and when required, depending on your mental health: “you can elect, to set a series of controls that are bespoke for you, customised for you, based on useful data, useful information that tells you actually how you do behave, in certain scenarios.” Ghela agrees saying that with enough data and behavioural pattern analysis modern financial services can now pick up on a person’s actions and behaviours to realise when a person isn’t in the right frame of mind to make a transaction: “It’s also identifying those points when someone is having a real challenge making a decision, or executing, an action, and implementing something that says ‘you can't complete that. You don't understand what you're doing right now, so I'm going to pause that for you, and then you can reconsider when you can actually engage’”.

Making big steps forward

This controls model is slightly controversial as some people’s mental state is made worse by the control of their finances being taken from them, and execution of this kind of offering must be executed with the utmost sensitivity. James also reminds us that while technology can help alleviate mental health stresses, it can alsoa sometimes be a cause of them too, as people react badly to what they see on social media, for example, but that can be a symptom of poor mental health, not the technology itself. “You can't say that it's Facebook's fault, for making me compare myself to my friend who's got a nicer car than me. That's just brought to the fore, or brought to the surface, an anxiety or an uncertainty about myself that I might have.” However, whether you agree or disagree about the controls model, James counters that the biggest positive in all this advancement is that people are taking mental health into consideration when making decisions around user experience and product development. In financial services in particular this is a huge step forward.
"I think what's really, really positive, is that people are taking mental health in to decisions around user experience." - James Routledge
Likewise if the people leading financial services organisations, banks or fintechs are taking care of their employees (and their own) mental health James envisages that this will have a trickle down effect into the products and services their organisations create. If the empathy is there from the start, it bodes well for future innovation and product development.

Human interaction is the solution

However, despite all the discussion around the technology and products available on the market, in Simon’s words “The answer can't just be product design”. James agrees, "humans are going to play a bigger part in solving the mental health epidemic than technology is." It’s clear that the biggest solution to mental health awareness is conversation. As James put it: “Real change, real connection, real growth comes when you open up and talk to another human being. We need community, we need people around us, we need space to be open, to be vulnerable, to be honest and someone on the other end, who's there to empathise and offer support.”
"Humans are going to play a bigger part in solving the mental health epidemic than technology is." - James Routledge
While frictionless financial services and more empathetic products are making huge strides forward and making people’s lives easier and helping their financial health, mental health is a human issue and human empathy. Conversation, openness both at a company level and an individual level, and de-stigmatisation of the topic of mental health is the biggest way to alleviate it. For more information about any of the issues raised, check out the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute’s work in the area, and if you’d like to talk about some of the issues raised in the show, visit Sanctus.io, jsbarefoot.com or fca.org.uk, or let us know your thoughts @Fintechinsiders, @11FSTeam on Twitter.

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 Laura Watkins
About the author

Laura Watkins

Laura is Head of Content Creation for 11:FS. At 11:FS she writes and produces the content for the Fintech Insider, Insurtech Insider and Blockchain Insider podcasts, as well as live events, video content and sponsored content for global clients including Microsoft, RBS and many more.

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