How can peer-based approaches be used to support Financial Wellbeing?
There is a small and growing evidence base, supported by new evidence from the Money Advice Service’s What Works Fund, which shows that peer-based approaches (particularly peer educator models) can be effective in supporting financial wellbeing - at least for certain age groups. This review provides an overview of the peer-based approaches used in financial wellbeing settings, evidence of why they are effective, and sets out some principles for good practice. It concludes by listing areas for further research.
The effectiveness of peer-based approaches
There is evidence that shows how peer-based approaches can be effective at improving a range of outcomes, across a range of ages and contexts but, when specifically looking at financial wellbeing, evidence of effectiveness is currently limited:
- In a youth setting, peer educators are more effective than non-peers at building rapport and relationships, raising awareness of money matters and changing mindset, but young adults feel more confident in the validity of the information when it is delivered by an experienced adult. Interventions for young people might therefore make use of both peers and experienced adults.
- For older adults, the impact of peer approaches on engagement was more muted with only around half the participants in a programme targeting retired adults saying that a peer mentor element was likely to make a difference to their attendance.
- There is also a risk that learning about peer behaviour can be detrimental. Research in the US found that employees who learned about their peers’ saving behaviour were less likely to enrol in their workplace pension.
Different peer-based approaches
The range of peer-based approaches used to improve financial wellbeing is fairly narrow when compared to other settings such as healthcare. Peer educator approaches tend to be used with young people and young adults, whilst one-to-one peer mentoring is seen amongst other adult age groups.
There is limited evidence about the use of peer groups for primarily emotional support in financial contexts, although an element of emotional support is often present in adult peer group contexts.
There is less evidence of the effectiveness peer support delivered outside of a face-to-face setting (for example by telephone, online or via an app), and what evidence does exist is mixed. There is some indication that direct telephone support can be effective in signposting young people to more specialist support and increasing feelings of being in control. However, efforts to use social media to facilitate peer support have been less successful. The evidence suggests there are several barriers to engagement which would need to be tackled to effectively utilise this platform including caution creating social media content about finances, poor internet access and low digital confidence.
Why peer-based approaches work
The evidence suggests several reasons why peer-based approaches can be effective, in general:
Authentic and non-judgemental: peers provide an authentic, relatable and credible voice, having had similar life experiences to those they engage with;
Engagement: peers can increase recruitment to, and engagement in, an intervention - especially from young adults and disadvantaged groups;
Role modelling: peers can serve as powerful role models, especially when they can demonstrate their own improved circumstances;
Hands-on support: peer mentors are a key resource for beneficiaries, acting as a critical friend, helping them to work through decisions and gather information;
Accountability: in group settings, peers feel accountable to one another which can stimulate action. For example, sharing savings goals with peers can increase saving performance;
Skills development: in addition to financial capability skills, peer educators and mentors develop their listening, facilitation and employability skills. Several programmes have provided formal qualifications or accreditation of these skills.
Good practice in using peer-based approaches
Applying the following principles can help practitioners avoid common pitfalls when delivering peer-based approaches:
Focus on recruitment and retention. Recruiting and retaining peer educators/mentors can be challenging, time consuming and emotionally demanding, especially when dealing with young and/or vulnerable individuals. High attrition rates also increase the onboarding costs associated with peer approaches. Switching to paid traineeships can create a more stable pool of mentors but rolling recruitment will still be necessary for paid roles that are temporary or short term. Attrition can also be a positive indicator of personal and professional development where peer educators achieve employment, further education or other volunteer roles.
Provide comprehensive training, but don’t let it become a barrier to recruitment. Peer educators/mentors need comprehensive training and skills development, not only in aspects of financial capability, but in softer skills, such as listening. However, attrition may be high if training is considered too arduous.
Build facilitation skills into training. Peer approaches are most effective when peer educators/mentors receive training in facilitation, or when they are accompanied by trained facilitators.
Don’t underestimate the amount of support required. In addition to training, peer educators/mentors need ongoing personal and emotional support to enable them to fulfil their roles. For example: support for travelling to peer sessions (particularly for those with mobility issues or visual impairment); opportunities for young peer mentors to spend time together in training or social events; and practical support to deal with issues not specifically related to their role (such as attending court hearings). Support needs to take account of individuals’ vulnerability, their mental resilience, communication skills and literacy.
Develop clear role descriptions, expectations and boundaries. Peer educators/mentors need to understand their roles and the limits of their expertise. They are unlikely to have knowledge of all the information that workshop participants might want, and the risks of giving incorrect information can be significant. Evidence suggests peers are best used for their experiential knowledge, with support from more knowledgeable others on money advice.
Co-design content with peer educators. For all age groups, evidence suggests that involving peers in the co-design of content makes it more relevant and engaging.
Take a flexible approach. While some structure is important, programmes also need to be adaptable to cope with individuals’ circumstances – which are sometimes challenging. The most effective approaches can adapt the length and timing of training for peer educators/mentors, and the number and length of sessions for peer beneficiaries, to suit their needs.
Where is further research needed?
- Understanding the effectiveness of a wider range of peer support approaches in improving financial wellbeing. We know that a wider range of approaches are effective in other contexts (such as health services), and this suggests that they might also be successfully applied in the money and debt advice context.
- Strengthening the evidence of how peer support approaches can be used to engage a wider range of target groups.
- Exploring good practice in engaging and supporting volunteers to act as peer mentors.
- Determining how best to make use of digital channels to more easily connect peer mentors and beneficiaries.