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Interesting Times

When reviewing the constant Brexit news coverage, it’s perhaps worth remembering Robert Kennedy’s speech in Cape Town in June 1966 when he said:

“There is a Chinese curse which says ‘May he live in interesting times.’ Like it or not we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history.”

We too are living in interesting times and, as Kennedy so rightly pointed out, interesting times bring not only uncertainty but opportunity.

Nugget of Opportunity

I was thinking about this when I was reading a recent issue of Mortgage Strategy. The story headlined “Number of house hunters lowest in seven years”, and reported that, according to figures from NAEA Property Mark, the average number of house hunters registered per estate agency branch dropped by 18% in February from 309 at the same time last year to 252 this year.

That’s perhaps not surprising at a time of uncertainty like this. But tucked a bit further down the story, the journalist, Leah Milner, reported an interesting nugget of opportunity for first time buyers. The figures also suggested that “first-time buyers are taking advantage of a less competitive market, as the proportion of sales to this group reached a seven-month high of 30 per cent.”

Be Prepared

That’s good news for the first time buyers who have clearly seen an opportunity and been nimble enough to take advantage of it. And I think it’s a lesson for all of us. Be prepared. We don’t know how things are going to shake out over the next weeks and months, but we can be prepared and ready for opportunities which may present themselves.

Castlight’s Affordability Passport is a good way of ensuring that you can move quickly on a mortgage or a loan if an opportunity crops up. It’s a 10 minute on-line process to  provide your lender with all the financial information he or she needs to process an application – no bank statements required. Whether you are a first time buyer or not the market is shifting in new and interesting ways and it has to be a good thing to be poised for action.

New Creative Energy

We are indeed living in interesting times, and yes they are uncertain. But I like Kennedy’s optimism that uncertainty also creates opportunity. And I believe that we too can use the “times” in which we find ourselves to be open to a new creative energy.

In fact, we have been burning enough creative energy recently to power a small factory with the result that Version 3 of the Affordability Passport is just around the corner, with hugely innovative new features and creative user experiences.

Exciting times indeed.

Finishing Lines Are Not The End Of The Race

Kara Goldin is the founder and CEO of San-Francisco based “hint” – a cool, lower-case company that produces flavoured water with no sweeteners and nothing artificial. It’s currently pretty much the de facto drink of Silicon Valley, so my guess is that it won’t be long before we see it landing on our shores, maybe even edging out Evian with its crisp apple or grapefruit fizz flavours.

Something Disruptive

Interesting stuff but I’m actually a tap water man myself, so it’s not Ms Goldin’s product that grabbed my attention when I read about her disruptor story in Forbes. It’s her philosophy, the vision behind her water that interested me. Here’s what she says about creating something new, something disruptive:

“Being the first to achieve something great, whether accidental or intended, always deserves praise. However, the proverbial satin ribbon at the finish line is never the end of the race if you have a larger goal in mind. How do you want to change society and the world? For me, creating an innovative product that disrupted the beverage industry was phase one; my larger goal is to make America healthy and reduce the skyrocketing rates of diabetes, obesity, and nutrition-related disease.  If your goal is great enough, being first will be just one small step in a lifetime of hard work and passion. I still have my work cut out for me, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

I love the way Kara Goldin sees the big picture and has set her sights on the bigger goal. She has developed a hugely successful product, encouraged people to drink more water and reduced the sugar load of Silicon Valley and beyond. But that’s not good enough for her. She wants to change society and the world.

Not Finished the Race

We want to do that too. Our suite of affordability tools such as CastScore and the Affordability Passport have been developed to help people achieve and sustain financial wellbeing and to access and manage credit safely. These tools have been adopted by some of the UK’s major banks and brokers and are helping to ensure that hundreds of thousands of customers can borrow what they are able to repay and only what they are able to repay. In many ways we have smashed through satin ribbons at the end of finish lines. But like Ms Goldin said, we’ve not finished the race.

Our corporate strapline expresses our vision – we want to build “a safer financial world” and that’s why we are continuing to create content and products that empower consumers to better understand their financial landscape so they can make better, safer financial decisions.

Reaching High

There Ms Goldin is reaching high to tackle “skyrocketing rates of diabetes, obesity, and nutrition-related disease”, we are reaching high to ensure there is never again a financial tsunami like there was in 2008. We are reaching high to enfranchise millennials with thin credit files and other marginalised groups currently exiled from safe, affordable credit.

And to do this, to change the world, we know we have to do things differently. Again, Ms Goldin hits the nail on the head: “you have to hire differently” she says.

Social Capitalists

She’s right. And we do. We hire social capitalists – people we know are driven by acting for the greater good, who want to make the world a better place. We recruit people with vision, integrity and with spirit, who are committed to helping us build an ethical organisation and who are passionate about developing ethical products.

As a team we all have a lot of work to do, new products to get over that finishing line. But like Kara Goldin, it’s good to keep reminding ourselves that we’ve only just begun changing the world!

False Eyelashes And Succumbing To Influence

by Danielle Flynn, Castlight Marketing Manager

More than one in five 25-35 year olds spend more than 60% of their income on the very day it enters their account and 3% of these millennials even find themselves in the red by the end of payday, according to a survey by KPMG and reported in insider.co.uk. KPMG’s survey went on to show that the 42% listed unsecured loans and credit card payments as a significant payday outgoing.

Another article, by Shawn M Carter published on the US site CNBC, examined social media’s impact on American spending habits and found that 90% of millennial respondents say social media creates a tendency to compare their own wealth or lifestyle with those of their peers. And that 57% of the millennials surveyed reported feeling “inadequate” about their own life and then went on to part with money they hadn’t planned to spend.

With big brands investing increasingly bigger chunks of their marketing budget on “influencers”, across various social media platforms, millennials are being bombarded not only with images of their peers’ holidays, handbags and harissa chicken but also a stream of images of social media influencers living the dream.

Top influencer Huda Kattan is a make-up artist and beauty blogger with 24.3 million followers on Instagram and 2.2 million subscribers on YouTube. And when Kim Kardashian wore Kattan’s branded false eyelashes, so did thousands of her followers. Kattan’s currency soared and her spot at the top of the influencers’ charts confirmed.

As a millennial, it’s clear that we are exposed in subtle ways to the influencers’ machine and to a relentless pressure to spend. There’s also a sense that spending beyond one’s means has perhaps become normalised, in a way which it wasn’t in previous generations.

At Castlight Financial we are known for our Affordability Passport which uses open banking to look at a customer’s bank transactions, categorise them into 155 categories of spending and 29 categories of income and provide a definitive analysis of exactly how much a person can afford to borrow and repay. The Affordability Passport is primarily used for people looking to secure a mortgage or a loan and can allow brokers and lenders to provide a report and an answer in under 10 minutes. However, the powerful categorisation technology that powers the Affordability Passport, can also be used to help people improve their money management skills – or Financial IQ.

Our data scientists are currently fine-tuning our software so that millennials, and other generations too, will soon be able to run their transactions through our software, see exactly where they are spending their money and whether they demonstrate a high or low Financial IQ. And if it’s a low Financial IQ, what they can do to improve it.

Watch this space as I believe that, before we know it, social media influencers are going to have a lot less influence. As we all take on board the tools that will help us increase our Financial IQ, we will be more aware of what we are spending and why. We will be able to take back control of our bank accounts and stay safely in the black way beyond payday.

Just because Kim Kardashian wore Huda Kattan’s lashes that doesn’t mean we all have to!

Too Much Month Left at the End of the Money

A recent thread on Mumsnet exploded after someone posted “After all expenses we are left with about £1k in our account. My husband is flapping saying its not enough of a buffer … my argument is, we are lucky to have that much and we shouldn’t waste time fretting … Am I wrong not to worry?Read more

The Affordability Passport and Babies are Powerful Disrupters

Life will never be the same after a baby. I knew that. I expected that. And when Brodie arrived on the scene 10 weeks ago, I was prepared for things not being the same. Read more

Student Budgeting Apps Are Good But Don’t Come Close To The Affordability Passport

A whole new generation of students are about to leave home and embark on the adventure that is student life. For some, it will be the first time that they have had to manage their own budgets. And for many, they are watching, with a degree of alarm, the doors of the Bank of Mum and Dad (BOMAD) sliding shut.

But as BOMAD shuts up shop, the High Street banks are bombarding students with rail cards, Amazon Prime membership and restaurant vouchers.

But for this generation of students, there’s also the whole new world of challenger, digital banks, with a complex array of enticements aimed at students.

Digital Banks Are Changing The Game

Jessica Murray, writing on the Save the Student website, reviews the functionality and deals of the leading challenger banks such a Monzo, Starling and Atom as well as the range of budgeting apps and savings bots for managing and monitoring expenditure. There’s kWh for keeping the lid on energy consumption, mySupermarket and CheckoutSmart for driving food shopping costs down and Onanvo Extend for reducing data costs. There’s even the musicMagpie app for generating cash by recycling and selling on games and old CDs and DVDs.

And for any student who has a niggle that they’re spending too much on coffee, diet Coke or beer, they can scare themselves silly with Martin Lewis’s Demotivator. Punch in your non-essential item of expenditure, the unit costs and how often you buy it and Martin’s demotivator calculates how much that adds up to each year and across a working life.

If it’s a caffeine habit you have for example, then the demotivator is quick to flag up that just one medium sized Americano from Costa on the way to lectures and a couple over the weekend will cost a student £803 a year and £36,135.00 over their lifetime.

Students are smart and, with budgets under pressure, they are highly motivated to use all the resources out there to keep their finances on track. And many students will have their smartphones loaded up with a range of apps to help them manage their budget.

Its good news that students are using the array of financial management apps at their disposal and bodes well for future financial responsibility.

Are Students Missing A Trick?

But I wonder if they know, as they download scores of cool apps onto their phones, that the millennials and their parents’ generation too, may be one step ahead of them?

You could say that Castlight Financial’s Affordability Passport is, in essence, a whole lot of these cool apps all rolled into one. The Affordability Passport uses the same open banking technology as the digital banks and some of the budgeting apps, but instead of totaling up the numbers in a defined area of spending such as utilities bills, the Affordability Passport is able to categorise transactional spending across multiple personal accounts, categorising spending into 155 categories and a further 29 categories for income.

The Affordability Passport is powered by Castlight’s CaaS (Categorisation as a Service) software which is currently the most powerful categorisation engine in the UK. And now that it’s being widely used by the UK’s High Street banks, there are hundreds of thousands of UK customers who should feel pretty smug that, whatever numbers their student children may be crunching with their budgeting apps, its not nearly as cool as 155 categories of spending analysis.

No One Is Average

By Martin Hagerty, Chairman, Castlight Financial

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How to Halt Customer Leakage in its Tracks

By Martin Hagerty, Chairman Castlight Financial

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Financial inclusion in sight for UK’s renters

We have been following the journey of Lord Bird’s Creditworthiness Assessment Bill through the parliamentary process and I was very thrilled to see it progress through the committee stage at the end of last week, with widespread support and no amendments. Read more

Embracing the Spirit of the Law

Martin Hagerty, Castlight Financial’s Chairman, once defined company culture to me as “the things people do when they know they’re not being watched”.

I like that definition. Because it doesn’t just apply to companies. It applies to whole industries too. Read more