Innovate UK

Developing a digital solution for protecting vulnerable customers in online financial services journeys

Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency, has given LAB Group in collaboration with research affiliates from MIT and City, University of London, the opportunity to develop a revolutionary digital solution for the financial services industry.

Innovate UK ensures pivotal and transformational ideas are given the backing and support needed to be realised. They awarded the LAB Group agency, VERJ, a substantial grant of nearly £300,000, to explore a new frontier in the RegTech space: improving digital models for the protection of vulnerable customers in the financial services sector.

  • Research
  • Neuroscience
  • UI/UX

The challenge

Today, over 10 million people of the UK public are classed as vulnerable due to age, disability, mental capacity, sickness or other personal circumstances. Many of these individuals are also struggling financially.

The predicament facing the digital financial services market was that these vulnerable individuals were falling through the cracks. Methods to detect vulnerability are exclusively face-to-face or phone based. No online vulnerability assessment currently exists. Significant consequences to vulnerable individuals has left the digital financial services industry facing the music, with ongoing consultations, fines and regulatory action from the FCA.

The ethical and practical challenges surrounding vulnerability in digital financial services cried out for a game-changing solution: how could you determine whether someone might be vulnerable, in real-time, within a financial services journey?

The solution

The Innovate UK grant gave VERJ, LAB Group, the opportunity to develop a proof of concept based on 18 months of groundwork. The research team aims to create technological and behavioural toolkits for companies. These toolkits will help address the harmful consequences of digital optimisation methods, and improve the likelihood of regulatory compliance, digital inclusion and fair customer treatment.

Through a VERJ-developed research methodology, overlaying psychological mapping to intra-browser traits, the team will be able to identify potentially vulnerable people. Using activity such as online kinetic behaviour (e.g. scrolling cadence, clicking, field selection order, etc.), VERJ intends to refine a practical model to support the financial services industry in identifying vulnerability.

Academically-proven behavioural and biometrics techniques will register a range of behaviours such as movement, selection, cadence and preference. These behaviours will be used as cognitive indicators of personality. For example, it could identify frustration clicking as a sign of neuroticism that points towards psychological vulnerability.

Upon detection, dynamic UX and choice architecture adaptation will occur to serve vulnerable customers with the adequate protection they deserve.

The Results

The process is still in its early days. Working with academic and industry experts, VERJ will undergo three proof of concept phases.

  1. A qualitative research phase to understand the kinetic behaviours and interactions associated with vulnerable customers in financial services’ journeys.
  2. A quantitative research phase where intra-browser behaviour will be recorded, and analysed using machine learning to refine the most predictive algorithm for detecting vulnerability.
  3. The final phase will be to take the evidence-based ‘Intra-Browser Vulnerability Assessment’ (I.B.V.A) product to the financial services industry to help companies and their customers move towards mutual benefit: consumer inclusion and protection.

There’s still much to discover. But the grant has given VERJ the opportunity to develop an innovative solution, and the passion behind the project is tangible. Digital financial services are addressing the ethical and moral steps they need to take and VERJ is thrilled to be on the road with them.

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