Guest blog by Chris Fitzgerald, Programme Co-ordinator at A2Dominion, a residential property group with 37,000 homes across London and southern England.
At A2Dominion, financial capability forms an integral part of our organisation’s tenancy sustainment strategy. We always aim to improve our understanding of the needs of our customers, as well as the services we provide.
That’s why, with support from the Money Advice Service’s “What Works Fund”, we are testing how digital support and therapeutic mentoring can improve the financial capability of our customers.
With over 37,000 homes across the south of England and London, we are in a unique position to identify customers who may benefit from advice and guidance using our existing rent arrears process and the ongoing contact we have with our tenants.
We are delivering the project in the following ways:
- One-to-one mentoring. We are utilising our existing mentoring service DOSH (Debt Overdraft Savings Help). Mentors meet regularly with customers to help tackle their financial difficulties, avoid eviction and improve overall wellbeing. By creating person-centred support plans customers are given the chance to confront their financial difficulties and develop long term financial independence.
- A new smartphone app, called Ask David. The app provides practical information and advice as well as direct contact via a messaging service to a DOSH mentor. It’s designed to complement the DOSH mentoring service.
- Develop a system of brief interventions: having short, un-intrusive conversations not just with customers but anyone looking for assistance. We would use this opportunity to open a dialogue, identify those in need and then refer to the relevant services and agencies.
Our research partners at Brunel University have conducted in-depth interviews with DOSH mentors, DOSH beneficiaries and a control group of customers who had not engaged with any of our financial capability projects. The findings coming out of these interviews are already offering us insight into how to deliver effective financial capability services to our customers.
- Developing digital platforms can be hard
If you are planning to develop an app, it’s important to consider time constraints. Ask David is now moving out of the testing phase and will be available for open download on Google Play. Researching and developing the app was a quick process; ensuring the app is safe for those who use it and the organisation can take longer.
- Digital engagement happens all the time
We thought it would be simple to identify two groups of beneficiaries – those who wanted to engage face-to-face and those who wanted a combination of face-to-face and digital engagement. We would then be able to clearly measure the difference in outcomes and journeys for both groups.
What we found was that far more customers engaged with online tools while working with their mentor than we had predicted. In fact, it’s hard to find anyone these days who does not communicate online on some level. That means we can’t separate research groups into online users and non-users; we have to question how the depth of digital engagement affects outcomes.
- Brief interventions work
Having short, unobtrusive conversations with people about money and finances has proved incredibly useful. Borrowing this model from substance misuse services, brief interventions offer insight into the difficulties facing those who participate in a non-prescriptive manner. It also gives us an opportunity to offer assistance or signpost to relevant services.
As we enter the last phase of the project we are starting to draw meaningful conclusions from the data we already have. However, the end of this project will not spell the end of DOSH.
The findings from this project are feeding directly into the future of our financial capability strategy. Its legacy will continue to influence our policies. With the success of this project we and our partners at Catalyst Housing were recently successful in a bid for funding from the Big Lottery Fund to continue delivering DOSH for a further three years.