My financial awakening took place in the light of a compact, concrete home in the heat of Bangalore. I had spent the best part of a week speaking to ‘lower-middle class’ housewives to learn how they budgeted and, in particular, how they valued soap within said budget. It will save you 40 pages of research to know that simply put ‘soapanomics' has two measures: how much the soap costs and how long it will last with your entire household using it. Here the emphasis was on not the soap, but rather the security derived from knowing not simply the price of an item but how this fits into your family’s means, down to the last rupee.
There’s much to be said for knowing the price of your soap. The fact that total UK credit card debt was almost £57billion (http://themoneycharity.org.uk/money-statistics/) in June suggests that our costing is approximate to say the least. Sure – debt is not exclusive to developed countries but it’s paradoxical how for all our cashless society, contactless payment and branchless banking, we are digitally rich but still sense poor. When you pay with coins, you’re painfully aware of money slipping away. With a card, it still slips away but you don’t register it leaving – nor how much. This creep to digital renders us non digital-natives a bit defunct really, as we realised that the availability of a credit card or Apple Pay does not accurately reflect that of your money.
Luckily, as they say, there’s an app for that. Or a few.
One is Moven (www.moven.com), which takes the basic analytics that credit cards offer a step further. Linking debit card with app, it provides instant purchase feedback: how your spending compares both within that category and against your actual budget. This is echoed in other ventures. Level Money (www.levelmoney.com) utilises a charming interface to set and monitor your daily spend. Complexity waxes and wanes across tools but the benefit is clear: someone is tracking your spending – even if you’re not.
It’s great feedback. It provides the perfect nudge of information and guilt that the empty wallet used to sing, combined with personalised analytics. However, for the more impulsive of our society, it’s still not enough. There is a need for more: the prevention alongside the treatment of debt.
Debt is not something rather avoided, it’s a problem. Our ways of planning and budgeting need a smarter, digital arsenal to fight the good fight for our finances. Brett King, CEO of Moven, proposed that “Millennials and Gen Ys are looking for that balance that we've lost… [and] expect tools like Moven to answer two fundamental questions moving forward:
- Can [I] afford to buy this 'thing'?
- If I can't afford it today, should I buy it on credit today?”
…much like our soapanomics.
Soon, we will see apps that will proactively guide our decisions when we try to purchase unnecessarily expensive items. Using a combination of user-set rules and the increasing ability to categorise purchases, we will be all but forced to stick to budgets and live within our means. Crikey.
This isn’t –or shouldn’t be – unique to start-ups. Banks have the opportunity to start embracing these innovations as tools rather than threats. We expect a desire to help customers navigate this brave new world, yet our financial behemoths have been slow to push these smarter tools. Only now are we seeing such as partnerships with systems like Paym (http://www.paym.co.uk/), which links payments to phone numbers, but even this has been painfully slow.
The issue will swell; m-payments and e-payments are already growing at 58.5% and 18.1% annually (http://www.capgemini.com/wpr13). As our money disappears into the online abyss, we need fast help bringing it back into consciousness. Where we used not to be able to spend because cash was not physically there, soon we will not be able to spend because our technology knows it is not digitally there. This opportunity for a more sophisticated transaction and payment handling may just drag us to soapanomics and re-sharpen our digitally-dulled, spending senses; we may not know the price of soap, but we will soon know if we can afford it.