Financial Inclusion

A Digital Financial Coach for Low-Income Americans

This friendly digital assistant is helping financial coaches bridge aspiration and action

47% of Americans don’t have $400 saved up in case of an emergency. But not nearly as many of them are seeking financial coaching.

Studies show that financial coaches can play a key role in people’s journey towards financial prosperity—but, coaches can’t be there every step of the way. Clients often leave with a list of what-can-feel-like-endless to-dos. Life happens. Their jobs, partners, and family take priority. It’s no surprise that nearly 50% of people who seek coaching drop off after their first appointment.

The IDEO​.org team wanted to create a light-touch way for coaches to help clients push through their to-do list; because the reality is coaches don’t have time to call and check in after an appointment. The team knew there was no way to replace the coach-to-client relationship. The goal was to strengthen this connection, alleviate the inherent sense of loneliness (and shame) that comes with financial struggle, and break down complex plans into bite-size steps.

We set out to bridge the gap between aspiration and action by designing a digital assistant for coaches. This friendly, androgynous chatbot holds clients accountable during the in-between moments. Designed to be equal parts tough-loving and supportive, the chatbot nudges you to complete tasks, celebrates small wins, and shares real-life inspiring stories along the way.

Clients really liked the inspirational videos and stories. It provided positive reinforcement and helped keep their goals top of mind.

Coach, WINGS

An interesting challenge in designing this chatbot was nailing down its personality. Our research showed that clients would be most receptive to getting financial advice from figures such as Michelle Obama or Oprah Winfrey. Besides being trustworthy and smart, these two icons felt relatable. Clients appreciated their early hardships and humble beginnings; they had achieved success with grit. Oprah and Michelle both strike the balance of being motivational but not preachy, intelligent but not judgmental. We called this balance the O Effect.” The O Effect” informed everything from the visual system to the script at different touch points. 

Our clients were reaching out more than normal, because it helped them feel more comfortable about asking for help.

Coach, LSS Financial Counseling

This friendly bot doesn’t live in a separate app but integrates into people’s existing messaging platform (think: text messaging and Facebook chat) in order to keep the barrier of entry low. IDEO​.org piloted the chatbot with seven nonprofit financial coaching organizations to test how effective it is in helping clients stay engaged. 

Of the over-200 clients, 52% of users sent between 1-to-3 messages to the chatbot and 49% of participants ticked at least one action item as complete.

IDEO​.org is on a mission to launch this chatbot across 850+ coaching and counseling organizations and provide critical support to the millions of Americans on a journey towards financial health. 

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