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Unlocking the pay cycle

Evidence type: Insight i


Wagestream is a holistic financial wellbeing platform (app) which provides access, through employers, to fair financial products and services for the support of frontline workers. Flexible pay cycles play an important role in Wagestream’s proposition because they have the potential to make income provision work much better for shift and frontline workers. The flexible pay feature within Wagestream (sometimes referred to as ‘stream or ‘streaming’) allows workers to access a portion of the pay they have already earned, a portion that is set by them and their employer, at any point in the pay cycle.

The report, a whitepaper, summarises new research into the objective and subjective impacts of giving workers flexibility with their own pay cycles – specifically via Wagestream. This study is part of a wider research programme developed by Wagestream to support the financial wellbeing of UK workers and public understanding of financial wellbeing.

The study

This mixed-methods study was commissioned and undertaken by Wagestream in Quarter 3 2022. A short survey of 4,122 Wagestream flexible-pay users (who were prompted to complete the survey whilst otherwise using the app) was undertaken to understand workers’ pay cycle preferences and map these against how they used the app. The survey was designed to capture positive and negative financial wellbeing impacts and produce high-quality unbiased data, including through expert review. A ‘financial health’ score was assigned to respondents using the Financial Health Network’s FinHealth Sore® methodology (which uses measures of spending, saving, borrowing and planning). Qualitative follow-up interviews were conducted by telephone with a small number of survey respondents to understand their survey responses and the subjective impact of the flexible pay feature in more depth.

Key findings

  • Demographics: Flexible pay is commonly used by financially excluded workers (e.g. are not using credit cards or do not have an overdraft) and low income is the main difficulty facing many who prefer flexible pay.
  • Behaviours and preferences: The uses of flexible pay are wide-ranging, and not limited to ‘emergencies’. For example, 76% use flexible pay when they have to pay a bill or make an essential purchase, 22% use it to travel to/from work, 21% use it instead of a credit card , and 11% use it to replicate a weekly cycle.
    • People generally feel positively about the feature, for example, 51% users say they are in better financial circumstances since using the feature and 84% of these say this is due directly to it. Wagestream could do more to improve levels of awareness about the controls the feature offers.
  • Financial wellbeing implications: The use of flexible pay (for example volume, frequency, value) does not correlate with worsened financial health, though more frequent use can expose existing financial difficulty.
    • The use of flexible pay can have a positive impact on prior reliance on borrowing, for example 85% of users said they borrowed less from friends and family and 73% that they use payday loans less. The feature enabled them to pay bills on time and manage their spending.
    • The use of flexible pay can co-exist alongside saving behaviour. 62% of flexible-pay users have some savings.

Points to consider

  • Applicability: The authors note that survey respondents used flexible pay more than the typical Wagestream user. This means they are not representative of all users. The authors found no evidence that higher flexible-pay users differed systematically from average flexible-pay users on key financial health outcomes, however.
    • The analysis is correlational and does not prove causal relationships.
    • Details are not provided about how many qualitative follow-up interviews were undertaken, selection criteria or analysis approach. As a result, it is difficult to assess how representative the reported findings are likely to be. Some of the qualitative insights appear to be based on individual cases.
  • Applicability: The study findings are likely to applicable to other contexts, including outside of the UK, wherever employers wish to support lower-paid or financially excluded workers with flexible pay cycles.

Key info

Client group
Year of publication
United Kingdom
Contact information

Wagestream, 35 Grease Street, London, W1T 1QY, [email protected], www.wagestream.com