Research has found that mental health conditions can have an impact on spending, something which banks and financial institutions often neglect. Zander Brade, Lead Product Designer at Monzo, talked to Design Council about the importance of design and innovation in implementing a broad range of features to help people with mental health conditions use Monzo products and services.

Design, innovation and accessibility are at the heart of Monzo's services, says Zander, and they continuously gather research from their customers in order to improve them. This research has resulted in Monzo designing product features to help those with mental health conditions, including real-time balance updates to increase financial visibilty and an option to block transactions relating to gambling. Zander believes that accessibility applies as much to mental health as physical health, and that embedding accessibility within their services will ultimately benefit all their customers.

There are not many banks focussed on mental health and vulnerable people but Monzo has made this part of your business strategy – where did this come from?

It begins with having a team of empathetic people who are keen to be pushed out of their comfort zone and solve these problems. We strive to be a responsible company that cares about our customers, that treats everyone as we would wish to be treated, and along the way provide all with the support to improve their comprehension and use of their money. Also, as mentioned previously, not only does it make sense when you’re trying to build a bank that one billion people can use, it’s actually a necessity. This sentiment runs through the fabric of the company.

What were the reasons behind Monzo's focus on mental health?

There was no one direct influence that led us to having a focus on mental health, however the reality is that one in four adults (in the UK) face a mental health challenge every single year – our ambition is to be a bank that works for billions of people worldwide, and ignoring the potential needs and struggles of 25%+ of your user base is not only irresponsible design, but a foolish business decision.

What mental health needs have you have designed Monzo’s products around?

Ultimately mental health is a spectrum and therefore it's a really tough aim, and incorrect approach, to try and solve one need for one set of people. Many of the struggles that the 25% of people with mental health issues face, 100% of people have to deal with too at some point or another – stress, anxiety about finances, unsurety about when and where their money is going, and these are the broader issues we have tried to fix in the core Monzo product.

In what ways has mental health been taken into consideration in relation to user experience?

I think this answer ties heavily into the previous one, as ultimately they come down to the same thing – the product decisions that are useful for those with mental health conditions always tend to be beneficial for the wider population. Accessibility is never something that should be sprinkled on top of your product, but should be embedded in every choice you make, and I see no reason why mental health isn’t as much a part of accessibility as any physical impairment.

What tools are in place to combat stress and anxiety?

Giving you real-time updates on your money is the game-changer – knowing when money has left your account and knowing how much is actually available to spend was, especially in the earlier days of Monzo, such a contrast to the traditional banking experience people were used to. The power of visibility is often overlooked, but it has the potential to have such a positive impact on your anxiety around money.

As well as this, investing time into things such as simple copywriting throughout the product, avoiding confusing jargon. Having amazing customer support too, so if ever someone is unsure, they know they have someone to talk to.

What other elements of mental health do you aim to tackle in the long-term?

There are no specific elements that I’d say we’re aiming to tackle, but the ongoing goal is to make money work for everyone, and this means our product should leave every single user in a position where they understand and have the power to improve their finances.

Monzo has designed a feature to block transactions relating to gambling, will this feature be rolled out to other areas? How did this block come about?

The feature came about purely from talking to customers. Speaking with vulnerable customers every day, it was identified as a common theme, and we saw it as a small change with huge opportunity. Every fourth Friday, we undertake something called 'Monzo Time' in the company, where everyone has the opportunity to work on something they are passionate about exploring, something that may not have otherwise been built or wasn’t on our roadmap. The gambling block was one of these projects, where a group of engineers, a designer, and the Vulnerable Customers Team collaborated to conceive and execute this. I think it’s the standout Monzo Time project by a really, really long way.

As for extending the feature, a block could also be used for other areas of spending, and maybe in the future this would be something users would have more control over. For now we’ll keep analysing how people are using the gambling block and what we can do to support them even more.

You have introduced ‘Positive Friction’, could you explain what this is, and how this will benefit customers?

Positive Friction is the hypothesis that we introduced which suggests that bringing in some friction to an otherwise seamless experience can greatly benefit users without damaging the quality of both your product and user behaviour. It's a direct challenge to the approach applied by many digital products that aim to get you through a flow as quickly as possible, regardless of the negative outcomes that may happen. This gives users more protection, a safety net when things can go wrong, whether big or small, and is achieved without taking a knock on how they use the product.

What intelligent financial management tools have been developed by Monzo?

If I wasn’t confident in defining Monzo as a whole as an intelligent financial management tool, I think we would have failed at our goal. Every change we make in the product should be towards this end.

What makes a vulnerable customer? How do you tailor the Vulnerable Customers Team service to them?

One of the first things you learn in your vulnerable customers training, which every new starter at Monzo does and re-takes on a yearly basis, is that a vulnerable customer can be anyone – whether they have a history of gambling addiction, or maybe they recently lost a loved one, or perhaps they have dyslexia, or recently broke a leg and are having trouble with daily mobility – there is no strict definition, other than someone who is in a position of vulnerability and may benefit from added support.

Therefore, due to the breadth of different circumstances these customers may be in, our method of tailoring our service to them is precisely that: ensuring that every single person we interact with is given the appropriate care and support. Our team is trained to work with people from all sorts of backgrounds, and this experience combined with a deep knowledge and empathy is how we tailor our support to each vulnerable customer.

Do you rely on self-disclosure?

We do employ self-disclosure and encourage it for our any users who wish to share any information about their circumstances with us. However, we don’t rely solely on self-disclosure – our team are trained in detecting when someone may be vulnerable through conversation in our customer chat, and we can then take steps from there to ensure they are supported appropriately.

Are there any plans for gamification?

Nothing official yet, but I’m incredibly curious about what gamifying parts of Monzo could result in. We’ll carry on thinking and keep you updated!

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