- Vulnerable people are a largely underserved part of the banking system, and are increasingly being left behind by fintech innovations and bank branch closures.
- ‘Care tech’ startup Touco looks to help vulnerable people by providing a platform to share details about their finances with their loved ones.
- The demand for its services is only going to grow, says CEO and cofounder Bailey Kursar.
- In the UK, on top of an existing 13.5 million carers, 4.5 million people are looking after relatives and friends during the pandemic.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
COVID-19 is speeding up the switch to online banking, but not everyone can keep up.
In Europe, 25% of bank branches are expected to close over the next three years. Over the past decade, 35% of branches have already shut down.
These changes will leave behind millions of vulnerable people who need extra support and hand-holding when it comes to managing their finances online. Almost a third of UK citizens over the age of 65 and of those with a registered disability are not using the internet, according to a 2018 UK Finance report.
One startup looking to help those left behind is ‘care tech’ app Touco, which helps people with mental and physical health difficulties manage their finances by giving light-touch access to their loved ones.
“I really think that collaborating and getting that support with a trusted person will help people out of their debt situation, their anxiety, their shame about money, and helps them retain that sense of independence as well,” says cofounder and CEO Bailey Kursar.
Kursar came up with the idea for Touco in 2017 after she had a mental health crisis and realized that there was no existing infrastructure to protect the finances of the vulnerable.
The pilot Touco app, launched in the UK in partnership with Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, was designed to help people with mental or physical health problems by sending alerts about their spending to a trusted person via text.
After feedback, the second iteration of the Touco app launched in June this year.
The new app is designed for the carer and can be downloaded on Android and Apple devices. After a simple sign up process, requiring contact information and details of the vulnerable person’s bank accounts, it gives the carer visibility of the transactions in the bank accounts at the touch of a button. Touco says it supports 14 high street banks and is free for the user.
There is a corresponding web platform for the vulnerable person to ensure it can be used by people without access to a smartphone.
With 13.5 million unpaid carers in the UK alone, around one in four adults, there is a huge market for Touco’s services — and it is rapidly growing as a result of COVID-19.
According to Carers Week, 4.5 million more people are now caring for relatives and friends in lockdown.
The next thing Kursar and her six-person team plan to launch is a Care Card, a prepaid card that aims to give carers a transparent way to pay for things like groceries using the Touco account.
The team initially planned to launch the card in 2021, but the pandemic has pushed them to bring that forward and to focus in the short term on product development.
With the help of a £45,000 ($57,000) grant from agency Innovate UK, the team now hopes to launch a minimum viable product (MVP) version of the Care Card in October or November 2020.
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Having worked in the fintech sector for almost a decade, Kursar says that part of her motive for starting Touco is that she feels “very personally responsible” for the customers who are being left behind by the digital revolution in financial services.
“Lots more people are now talking about vulnerability, which is great,” she says. “Unfortunately, the crisis is going to have multiple effects over the next few years, one of which is going to be lots of people needing this type of support.”
Kursar started her career as one of the first five employees at small enterprise finance platform Funding Options in 2012, where she says she developed “a bit of an addiction” to tech startups.
“You kind of feel like you’re in a family,” says Kursar. “There’s a lot of camaraderie, you’re basically living in each other’s pockets, the highs and the lows are really extreme. And it is a bit addictive.”
Since then she has worked at peer-to-peer invoice platform MarketFinance and high-profile neobank Monzo, now worth $1.6 billion.
“It’s very helpful to be in an early-stage business that was doing so much right. The culture was very palpable,” she says, referring to Monzo. “It’s useful to have that knowledge of some of the good things and bad things.”
Over the next 18 months, Kursar and her team want to sign partnerships with service providers so that Touco can be offered as an add-on service for existing bank accounts.
“We want to be able to distribute the product through service providers and for them to pay for, or subsidize, the product for their customers,” says Kursar. “It helps us enormously to get that awareness out, and it also means that we don’t have to pay for direct marketing costs. So it’s a B2B to C model.”
The pandemic has cut the funding of some of the service providers that Touco was already in the process of doing business with, but Kursar hopes to announce a pilot in the coming months.
She is also looking at how they can work with local care homes and agencies.
With the expectation that ‘care tech’ market is going grow, she does not rule out pursuing a different model down the line.
“I think it is going to be a growth area in the next few years,” she says. “Both from a wider industry perspective, where consumers are increasingly wanting digital tools [and] have higher demands on service providers that they are using, but also from the regulatory perspective. The FCA [Financial Conduct Authority] is now very on top of making sure that everyone treats vulnerable customers fairly.”
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