From education to employment

Royal College of Art students to develop AI banking apps that help vulnerable customers

Rainbird, the #AI powered intelligent automation platform, and global consultancy @EYnews have collaborated with the Royal College of Art @RCA to offer industry knowledge and expertise to students enrolled on the RCA Service Design Programme course.

The aim of the course is for the students to develop cutting-edge AI-enabled apps that will help vulnerable banking customers better manage their finances and navigate the complex financial services industry. 

With an already-expected increase in the number of people classified as a ‘vulnerable customer’ and following the severe economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, there has never been a more pressing time to help those struggling to navigate the financial services landscape.

The apps developed by the students demonstrate there is far more to be done to protect vulnerable people when it comes to banking and covered a wide range of vulnerability use cases and value propositions, including a service designed to boost financial literacy among young people, whom are highly represented among vulnerable customers.

The students conducted face-to-face interviews with people categorised as vulnerable, to ensure a human-centred approach to the AI solutions they created. The apps developed by the groups demonstrate there is far more to be done to protect vulnerable people, when it comes to banking. They also covered a wide range of vulnerability use cases and value propositions, including:

  • A preventive service that applies consumer gamification and incentives to nudge users towards positive behavioural changes. The service is designed to use Rainbird to generate a “wellbeing score” that helps banks recognise those who need extra support. 
  • A service aimed at preventing financial abuse by improving the joint account service for couples. One in five adults is a victim of financial abuse (most of these being women). The service is designed to use Rainbird to identify potentially vulnerable people by analysing suspicious transaction patterns, unusual behaviour and words used in help centres. 
  • A service designed to boost financial literacy among young people, whom are highly represented among vulnerable customers. The service would use Rainbird to identify the potentially vulnerable, based on multifactorial signs of low resilience (e.g. low savings or over-indebtedness), and deliver automated, contextual advice.

James Loft, COO of Rainbird, said, “As banks are increasingly tantamount to online businesses, the nuanced and careful consideration of a customer’s circumstances should be incorporated within technologies used to assess vulnerability. The complex factors that influence a bank’s assessment of transient or compounding vulnerability can be reliably handled only by technology with human knowledge at its core.”

Rainbird’s technology has a variety of use cases across industries such as finance, accounting and law, and is already being used to support critical societal infrastructure. The firm recently entered a research partnership with the University of East Anglia (UEA) to enable fairer credit decisions, as well as the CEO last month penning an open letter offering its technology for free to all organisations embarking on non-commercial projects in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The students presented their proposed apps to a distinguished panel and detailed the resources needed to bring their ideas to life, including a clear timeline and implementation budget. 

The proposed solutions align with guidelines set by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) on how to assist vulnerable people, and comply with GDPR.

Clive Grinyer, Head of Service Design at RCA: “At the RCA Service Design course, we apply design approaches and methodologies to some of the biggest problems facing society and businesses. The opportunity to work with Rainbird, to develop new ways of identifying and helping people in vulnerable circumstances, fits perfectly that ethos. Our students have the opportunity to experiment and shape how AI and financial services can create real solutions to these problems.”

Chris Withers, Head of AI and Advanced Analytics, Financial Services at EY: 

“Improving outcomes for society’s most vulnerable citizens is an issue that will be even more urgent as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. There are no simple solutions to improve a person’s life situation or break a cycle of financial abuse or neglect, but there are defining moments where data, information and technology can come together to provide benefits to those people who are more vulnerable at any given point in time. The RCA students have designed solutions which demonstrate the art of the possible for all of us who participate in the financial services sector.”

In July 2019, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) launched a consultation to guide firms on the fair treatment of vulnerable customers, and the actions that can be taken. 

According to the FCA, vulnerable individuals’ financial risk exposures are far more widespread than many people and organisations realise. The characteristics of a vulnerable person can include – poor health or disability, low resilience or capability – or having been affected by a major life event, such as bereavement or a relationship breakdown. 

The Open Banking Implementation Entity – created by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority – has also released guidance on helping providers identify and protect vulnerable people from harm in the UK’s banking marketplace. The Entity’s research also found a link between mental and financial health

  • 18% of people with a mental problem also have a debt problem. 
  • 46% of people in financial difficulty also experience mental health problems. 
  • Many mental health problems are associated with increased impulsivity, difficulties understanding complicated offers and short-term memory loss. 

Related Articles