A Digital Financial Coach for Low-Income Americans
47% of Americans don’t have $400 saved up in case of an emergency. Although studies show that financial coaches can play a key role in people’s journey towards financial prosperity, 50% of people who seek coaching drop off after their first appointment given all the weight of their other life priorities. The reality is that financial coaches also don’t have time to call and check in after each appointment. JP Morgan Chase, an Advisory Council of 18 American nonprofits and IDEO.org partnered together to design a better way for financial coaches to support their clients in-between appointments and break down complex plans into bite-size steps.
During a successful pilot, IDEO.org enrolled over 200 financial coaching clients to use the financial chatbot. Of that number, 62% of clients were actively engaging with the tool and 49% of clients completed action items. Clients who actively used the chatbot attended a higher number of return appointments, on average, than those who were not active users (3.4 return appointments compared with 2.7). This quantitative data aligned with the qualitative feedback received from coaches that their clients were reaching out more frequently than before because the chatbot helped them feel more comfortable asking for help.
IDEO.org is now partnering with The Financial Clinic to launch this chatbot across the organization’s network and support over 50,000 Americans on their journey towards financial health.
Over the course of 18 months, the design team conducted over a hundred interviews with Americans at all levels of socioeconomic status, as well as financial coaches across the United States. They also sat in on a number of financial coaching sessions to immerse themselves,observed the dynamics between coaches and clients, and spoke with various clients individually. The team prototyped several low fidelity chatbots, both with code and human responders. The team assembled an advisory council with financial inclusion leaders from all sectors to advise, test and help ensure all voices were heard. As part of the research phase, a documentary-style video was developed by the design team to share the research stories with other stakeholders involved with the project.
One of the initial concepts stemmed from the insight that, due to the stigmatization of money problems, many Americans first turn to Google when challenged, only to find a scramble of untrustworthy and dangerous solutions. The team built a set of open-source interactive guides that could help anyone independently assess their financial health, get help paying bills, and figure out how to improve their credit. They then built a partnership with NerdWallet, in order to help distribute the guides widely through NerdWallet’s content platform. The expertise of the advisory council of 18 organizations from across the country—from local nonprofits to fintech companies and a leading financial institution— helped to shape the interactive guides. However, through a process of feedback and iteration, it became more clear that, while the internet helps you reach a large audience, getting them to positive outcomes is hard. The team realized that since financial coaching is proven to work, they could use technology to help make the coaches more efficient, hence making it easier for coaches to effectively serve more clients. Because the only problem with in-person coaching is that it can be resource intensive and rely heavily on the personal relationships between coach and client. The design team resolved to build a chatbot to help coaches stay in touch with more people and help clients feel the comfort and accountability of a coach in between sessions.
IDEO.org piloted the chatbot with seven nonprofit financial coaching organizations across the United States to test how effective it is in helping clients stay engaged. The team planned to scale the tool across the U.S. starting with integrating the chatbot into The Financial Clinic's Change Machine app. IDEO.org also plans to provide the chatbot as an open source tool for any nonprofit anywhere to use and adapt for their own communities.