Friday 5 - 16th August 2019

Posted by Jennie Mitchell
16 August, 2019

(1) To buy or not to buy 

This week, Klarna - a buy-now-pay-later service - was valued as the largest fintech in Europe.  

As a back-end service that displays only a small sunglasses logo on the consumer-facing website to show it is being deployed, the Klarna brand may not be on your radar, but the service is now universally available across fast fashion and low-cost websites (and, dare we say it, targeting “millennials”).   

In an age where more than half of 22-29 year olds have no savings at all, encouraging delayed payments (which makes sense for emergency or larger purchases but seems nonsensical when we are talking about a £10 top from Monki) risks perpetuating impulsive buying and could make keeping track of finances much more complicated. Challenger bank Monzo, who are known for instant transaction reports and budgeting tools, has also been accused this week of targeting vulnerable customers by offering short-term loans, although Monzo claims to offer an ethical borrowing solution, with a typical APR of 20.9% (compared to 1,000% and above with a payday loan).   

We get it. Emergencies happen, and sometimes you need cash fast. But we prefer the many money management apps available that help build financial capability rather than perpetuate debts. AI powered financial assistant, Plum, reviews your regular spending habits and puts small amounts of savings away every 4-5 days in line with your spending for the month, which can easily be withdrawn when needed. Moneybox rounds up small purchases and invests the difference, enabling investment for even the smallest of purchases. And Brolly is a new insurance policy management app, helping users keep track of insurance policies all in one place, and identifies where there are gaps or overlaps in cover – ultimately helping users save money in the short-term and be better protected in the long-term. 

(2) Entertaining on purpose 

We spend a staggering 10 years of our lives watching TV. With so much of our time spent engrossed in the lives of fictional strangers, how much responsibility should broadcasters take for their content’s impact on audiences? 

Quite a lot, we think. And now ITV has launched its new ‘Social Purpose’ strategy, which sets out its plan to ‘use the power of ITV to shape culture for good’, backed up by four priorities. We’ve talked before about the fact that not all brands need a purpose; that said, a media company has a clear role in society, and is a prime candidate for a strong purpose.  

Priority number one for ITV is ‘championing better mental and physical health for all’. ITV’s intention to highlight both physical and mental health is a positive acknowledgement of the need to remove the stigma around mental health issues, and the power of TV to influence our behaviour for good and bad. Its aim ‘to get 10 million people to take action to improve their mental or physical health by 2030’ equates to 25% of its 2018 weekly viewership. This is an ambitious target, but one which builds on its previous campaigns around healthy eating and mental health initiatives and which should therefore be within reach. 

The TV industry has historically been guilty of failing to address diversity, but ITV is choosing to take this head-on by committing to ‘fostering creativity by embracing diversity’. It has made steps here already after voluntarily publishing its ethnicity pay gap last year; one of the first organisations to do so. The final two priorities are, ‘reducing our impact on the environment’ and ‘giving back’; although not particularly revolutionary, they are certainly important and worthy inclusions. 

With other broadcasters taking increasing responsibility for the impact of their content and the way it reflects the world around them, such as Netflix’s investment in African-created content to boost cultural diversity on-screen, we look forward to seeing how televisual content will be re-shaped in the years to come, and seeing more broadcasters clearly articulating, and putting into practice, their reasons for being.  

(3) All’s well that ends well 

Death is something that few of us like to think about. But our unwillingness to consider what will happen to our bodies once we’re gone is leaving a damaging legacy for the planet. 

Flame cremation, the preferred choice for three quarters of British people, comes with a weighty environmental cost, releasing 400kg of carbon dioxide per corpse. And traditional wooden caskets don’t biodegrade – as well as taking up a significant amount of space in increasingly crowded cemeteries. 

So what could a good funeral and post-death experience look like? Solutions range from the high-tech (a 'liquid cremation’ in potassium hydroxide results in just a quarter of the carbon dioxide emissions) to the downright bizarre (a flatpack coffin promises an experience that is “as easy as putting together a simple cupboard from the renowned Swedish furniture store”). A more attractive option for many of us might be a ‘green burial’ in which a body is placed in a biodegradable coffin and buried in woodland or meadow; often with a tree sapling planted on top to complete the cycle of life.  

Thinking about a world in which we no longer exist takes courage. But it’s exactly this kind of thinking that we need when contemplating a climate crisis whose biggest effects will be felt by future generations. In death, as in life, it’s time to start considering what we leave behind. 

(4) One size does not fit all 

The ‘average’ person in the UK is female, white, aged 40.5, earns £29,600, and is 168.3cm tall.  

You may know someone who roughly matches this profile, but the more specific this hypothetical person becomes, the fewer people there are who look like this. The less useful the idea of an ‘average person’ becomes when problem-solving or designing interventions.   

The ecological fallacy is a common error that happens when inferences about individuals are deduced from inferences about the group to which those individuals belong. And an article we spotted this week reminded us that studies that avoid this fallacy often give rise to much richer insights. 

The article references a recent study to illustrate how making conclusions based on a large group can mask important patterns. Participants were asked to act in a talkative, outgoing and assertive way whenever possible over the course of a week, and had their wellbeing measured regularly. At first glance, the results were simple: acting in this way led to an increase in wellbeing. But on closer inspection, the success of the intervention depended heavily on who the participant was. Natural extroverts reported multiple benefits but no costs, whilst introverts reported fewer benefits and often felt tired, inauthentic and negative. 

Personality traits, in particular, have a big influence on how different people respond to interventions, and these traits can be as important as socioeconomic status or intelligence in predicting major life outcomes. By testing for personality traits in behavioural research, we can better understand how interventions can be tailored to specific groups and individuals, and apply these findings to improve financial, social and health outcomes in a much more effective way. So it’s time to say goodbye to average Joe and ordinary Jane and welcome personalised interventions to revolutionise behaviour change interventions.  

(5) A freezing hot winter  

The National Grid is feeling the heat after last Friday’s blackout left almost a million homes in the dark and forced trains to a standstill. 

And with the rise of electric cars and charging points around the country (there are currently 155,000 electric vehicles in the UK, with 4,500 more being registered every month), it is likely that these blackouts will become more and more common. We’ve written before about how our electrical infrastructure is not fit for purpose in the face of such a huge increase in demand on electricity – the grid simply isn’t built for it. 

However, we are seeing creative solutions emerge to tackle this issue. This week, Asda announced that hundreds of its supermarket stores will help power the UK’s electricity system this winter, by using its fridges as a virtual battery pack for the energy grid, earning the supermarket extra revenue while helping to manage demand on the electricity grid. Supermarket fridges are a hotly debated topic (yes, really: more than 18,000 people have signed a petition to ban retailers from using fridges without doors as it wastes so much energy). Under the long-term deal, Asda’s networks of freezer aisles and storage fridges will be put to good use; making up a 13-megawatt power storage source with enough energy to power about 8,500 homes. 

In a week where the news for Asda wasn’t all good (it has recently introduced a new contract for employees that has been met with staff protests), this is a welcome innovation, which is good for business and good for the creaking energy grid. 

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