13 October 2023

Using technology to support neurodivergent people can help everyone

Guest Author – James Murphy, Founder of StoryX and a European Leader of Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project.

This month is Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) awareness month, so it seems fitting to talk about how feature-rich banking products can make a huge difference for those with ADHD. But first, a little about me.  I work with the team at SaaScada to help educate around topics of financial inclusivity and ESG. 

After my diagnosis with ADHD, I began to really understand how my brain works. Learning what helps me be successful and what holds me back. A big part of thriving with ADHD was looking at ways to adjust my environment to increase my performance and changing my habits and behaviours to maximise my productivity.

I had all the traits of ADHD …. procrastination, disorganisation, and impulsivity. These traits aren’t harmful in themselves, but they can make it difficult to manage money, and I certainly found this to be the case.

Receiving a letter often fills me with a sense of dread, leaving me asking myself questions like, ‘Why do I struggle with something as straightforward as opening my mail?’ This sometimes results in overlooked bills and unpaid expenses. This is just one of the reasons that people with ADHD can struggle to manage their finances.

ADHD makes it hard for us to manage our finances because it affects our executive functions, which involve planning and organising. That means we may find it hard to plan our budget, set financial goals, or take care of the bills.

The challenges

A 2016 study funded by the National Institutes of Health in the US found that ADHD substantially increased the risk of homelessness. The study tracked 134 boys aged between six and 12 diagnosed with ADHD in the 1970s. When they caught up with the boys three decades later, they found that 24% of them had been homeless, more than five times the rate for a control group of neurotypical children.

There have been few studies about ADHD and homelessness, and those that exist use a small sample size, like the one I just mentioned. However, numerous studies show that the homeless have a high rate of mental illness, which contributes to or results from their state of homelessness. One survey in Spain found that homeless people frequently have ADHD alongside other disorders, particularly personality disorders.

I can’t help thinking that a reason for this is down to the relationship between ADHD and managing finances. Monzo worked with YouGov to commission a survey of people living with ADHD across the UK, to learn more about the extra costs caused by their condition and the findings are staggering. 60% of respondents reported that ADHD directly affected their financial lives, costing them an average of £1,600 per year.

There’s been a lot of focus on the harmful symptoms of ADHD. Although there’s no doubt in my mind that ADHD can be a superpower, people with ADHD report that they are more energetic, creative, courageous, and resilient than people without the condition.

Despite this I have no doubt that had circumstances been different I could have been one of the statistics I mentioned. It is probably the faint fear of ending up in a state of destitution, that led me to making choices in my life that ultimately led me to work with SaaScada. Several years ago I was working with The Big Issue Foundation on a project where I met Steve Round, SaaScada’s co-founder and Chair of The Big Issue Foundation at the time. This is where Steve founded The Change Account – to help people in debt, homeless and with financial problems and where it became clear that data was required from a core banking system

Steve and I have talked often about financial inclusivity and we both agree that the benefits are huge from being part of the solution to the climate crisis, to helping people like me not to spend money on obscure things like a 6-foot print of Michelangelo’s Last Supper, after watching the Da Vinci Code, I could probably write an entire blog about my film based impulse purchases but let’s get back to how banks can help people like me:

I am fortunate to bank with Monzo who offer modern banking features that are making a positive impact on managing finances for everyone, especially those with ADHD.

Essential features:

Instant Notifications and Real-Time Balance Updates:

I’ve found that Instant Notifications and Real-Time Balance Updates have been a game-changer for me. They offer immediate insights into my spending habits, which has been incredibly helpful in managing my expenses effectively, especially considering my ADHD.

Upcoming Payment Reminders:

Upcoming Payment Reminders have been a lifesaver for me personally. They ensure I never miss a bill payment by keeping me informed about upcoming expenses. This has not only prevented late payments but also saved me from those frustrating associated fees.

Automatic Money Allocation: (Money Pots)

I can’t emphasise enough how Automatic Money Allocation, or Money Pots, has transformed my financial organisation. This feature has given me a newfound sense of control over my financial commitments, making it much easier to manage my funds.

Despite the opportunity for financial services providers, according to the survey individuals with ADHD often feel unsupported by their current banks, with less than 1 in 5 believing their banks provide the necessary tools for effective money management.

Financial inclusivity needs to go beyond simply providing a basic bank account, because it is often the people most in need of quality banking products that will benefit most from them.

Supporting the vulnerable

All customers are at risk of becoming vulnerable, the FCA said, and more so if they have characteristics of vulnerability, such as poor health, low financial resilience, or face life events such as grief or new caring responsibilities.

Helping people out of poverty can of course start with a basic bank account but the opportunity for financial services providers lies in delivering financial products that help everyone regardless of economic status, geography, ability, age and of course people that are neurodiverse like myself.

On 31 July, new rules came into force for financial services firms. The new rules, known as the Consumer Duty, set a higher standard of consumer protection in financial services. The Duty means you should get: the support you need when you need it.

It also includes people like me with neurodiverse conditions such as ADHD, dyslexia, and autism, as well as mental health problems like depression and anxiety.

Planning for the neurodiverse community will benefit everyone

Considering that in recent years we have seen several lawsuits against global companies alleging violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

When the ADA, was enacted in 1990, the internet was still under development. However, the rapid growth of the internet has seen a string of high profile lawsuits.

Back in 2011, The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) brought a lawsuit against Netflix, citing the absence of closed captioning for streaming video as an infringement of the ADA. 

Netflix had to caption its entire video library by 2014, continue to caption new content, and pay $755,000 in legal fees and damages, so non-compliance can be a costly business, and there is no question that the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers individuals with ADHD.

I’m not suggesting that a bank could face legal action for not providing services tailored for people with ADHD, but starting to plan products and services for the neurodiverse community will help to cement their inclusion credentials which will no doubt boost business too.

The features I mentioned above actually help everyone and tech advances have eliminated size as an advantage in providing excellent services for financial services customers, with a strong core banking system connected to a great front end, smaller and new banks can turn into a powerhouse – quickly.

In the end, while ADHD may affect a relatively small percentage of the population, every step taken by banks to make their services more accessible and accommodating benefits everyone. It’s a win-win, promoting financial inclusivity and improving the financial well-being of us all.

Working with the team at SaaScada I’ve seen how core banking technology like theirs can enable banks to take that step to provide banking products with features that make it easier for everyone to manage their money – and given the current financial crisis – everyone could do with a little help right now.

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