Would you like to know more about the project?

In this section:

  1. What is the significance of the digital device?
  2. What is the significance of borrowing online?
  3. Where can I find additional resources?
  4. Where can I find a debt adviser?

What is the significance of the digital device?

The characters’ decisions about taking out credit do not happen independently of their thoughts and feelings and the situations they are in at the time. The significance of the digital device, such as a smartphone, tablet or laptop, is that it provides access to credit at any time and from any place, so decisions to borrow can be intimately shaped by those thoughts, feelings and situations. People apply for credit at home in the kitchen whilst making dinner or in bed at night, during their lunch break at work, whilst travelling on the bus, at a rugby game, when out with family, in the pub on an evening, on holiday or whilst shopping in town. People often apply for credit when they are feeling worried about money. The speed and ease with which an online application can be made, and a loan offer given, can deliver people a sense of relief from their worries. This relief is often only short-lived as those needs and worries return at a later date, leading to repeat borrowing.

About 40% of people we interviewed during the research described their use of high-cost credit as impulsive, because it was so quick and easy to access online. People borrowed for different reasons, which were tied to their personal, psychological or emotional needs. People experiencing significant life changes, like relationship breakdown or redundancy, told us how online access to credit helped them to fill a gap or boost their mood. People living with mental health problems experienced periods of illness which would lead to additional spending fuelled by quick credit. People experiencing problem gambling and alcohol addiction told us how their use of credit was tied to their psychological needs, with some comparing the buzz of being accepted for a loan to a gambling win. Others engaged in impulsive spending with no real purpose or need.

What is the significance of borrowing online?

When decisions are made online, they are also shaped by the devices we use and the websites with which we interact. Let us take the high-cost short-term credit website.

Slider amount selected

The slider, for example, offers a potential customer the opportunity to select an amount they wish to borrow and choose how long they would like to borrow. It is designed to make people feel ‘in control’. The smooth sliding action adds to this because it enables the customer to explore different options and possibilities in a very easy way. This is particularly effective for people who find themselves in chaotic or precarious financial situations and cannot find credit elsewhere. The effect of the slider makes them feel like they are taking responsibility of their money and have agency over their money matters. Also, as you move the sliding bars, the total cost calculation updates in real time. This creates the impression of openness and transparency. This helps to build trust between the customer and the lender, putting the customer at ease when making a decision to borrow. Use of the slider then becomes problematic when it boosts consumer confidence on superficial grounds by creating an illusion of consumer control and optimal decision-making conditions. In reality, consumer choice is always limited by the parameters set by the lender and shaped by the tools that mediate those decisions. So the interesting thing here is that the slider is not a neutral tool. In fact, such loan websites are carefully designed and heavily tested to remove points of friction and speed up the application process. The purpose of this is to enable quick and easy decisions whilst minimising customer deliberation.

Another example comes from the use of colour, writing style and imagery on loan websites. When we spoke to designers who have worked on loan websites, they told us about the importance of creating a user experience that was welcoming and friendly so that potential customers felt instantly at ease. The colour blue was often used because of its association with financial institutions, which was seen as a positive thing to help build trust. Oranges, greens and yellows were considered to be warm and relaxing colours. The writing style of these websites is often conversational; it is not formal or serious like you would usually associate with financial products. Photography of everyday scenes, like someone sitting at their kitchen table or someone at work in an office, were used to make the act of applying for credit online an ordinary and routine thing to do.

Where can I find additional resources on budgeting and money management?

You can find lots of free resources online if you would like to know more about budget planning, the cost of credit, alternative forms of credit, managing money and dealing with debt.

Where can I find a debt adviser?

The Money Advice Service provides an online search facility to help you find a debt advice service that has been accredited by them. You can choose between online, telephone and face-to-face services.