Carrying out research into a wide range of contemporary socio-political issues and trends is a challenge for researchers – both intellectually and emotionally. However, one of the joys of this kind of exploration is the way in which insights gathered from one research project can inform and stimulate the knowledge and thinking that go into another.
For example, last week I attended the launch of the Financial Conduct Authority’s ‘Access to Financial Services’ Occasional Paper – a paper based largely on independent research we conducted for the FCA into the customer experience of issues associated with access to a variety of different financial services and products. (Our own report was also published last week, alongside the FCA’s paper.)
One of the key topics for discussion at the launch was the practical issues associated with access to online or mobile banking services for those who are otherwise digitally excluded. This is a topic we know very well at Revealing Reality (ESRO), given the recent publication of our study for Ofcom into the needs, attitudes and experiences of those who access the internet exclusively via smartphones. During one particular discussion at the FCA event, I was thrilled to hear an audience member quote our Ofcom study as a way to elucidate a point about the current challenges associated with digital developments.
Alongside the debate about the technicalities of digital access ran a particularly lively conversation about how an improvement in financial education could provide a means of improving a customer’s ability to access financial services more generally.
While any investment in financial education should be welcomed, after hearing the stories and perspectives of our participants in both the FCA and Ofcom projects it is clear to me that one of the fundamental challenges driving exclusion is, as the title of the Occasional Paper suggests, access.
In order to ensure that every customer has a fair and equal opportunity to make the most of the services available to them, more needs to be done to ensure that the digital infrastructure is fundamentally inclusive in the first instance. It is perhaps from this starting point that an investment in financial education will reap the most reward – benefiting firms, consumers and wider society alike.