Financial services must step-up and fight neurodiversity tax

In a nutshell

13th March 2023: This week heralds the annual Neurodiversity Celebration Week, an event intended to challenge stereotypes associated with neurological differences and assist in creating a more inclusive and equitable society. But, whilst strides are being achieved in many areas of neurodiverse lives, money management and finances remain a concern.

Junaid Mujaver


Junaid Mujaver

Posted May 11, 2023
  • More than a quarter (27%) of neurodiverse people admit to a lack of confidence in managing their money, compared to 18% of neurotypical individuals
  • Just 15% of people with neuropsychological conditions are debt free, compared to 39% of people without
  • Over a fifth of people with neuropsychological conditions (21%) admit to carrying debt in overdrafts, 17% are in utility arrears and 11% have had to take out ‘pay day’ loans
  • Newton calls on the financial services sector to step-up and help eradicate the ‘silent tax’ currently being imposed on the neurodiverse, by designing better & more inclusive digital customer journeys

More than a quarter (27%) of people with neuropsychological conditions feel unconfident in managing their money, which is a much higher proportion than the 18% of neurotypical respondents. This comes from brand new research from consultancy Newton. Newton’s upcoming report, The Vulnerability Void, will delve into the landscape of neurodiversity and vulnerability in financial services, ahead of the FCA’s Consumer Duty legislation coming into play in July. This lack of confidence when managing money is especially prominent in those with ADHD (31%) and autism (30%).

When investigating the success of neurodiverse financial journeys, it’s proven that issues around confidence are not unfounded. In the last 12 months, 19% of neurodiverse people have applied for a credit card and 15% applied for an overdraft, yet 57% gave up on the credit card application process and didn’t complete it and similarly 36% dropped out of trying to set up an overdraft. These failed journeys become even more relevant when put into the context of 1 in 5 neurodiverse respondents (21%) saying that they have delayed buying a product they need in the past due to a lack of understanding or anxiety in completing the process, and 19% have avoided buying the product altogether.

Bearing this lack of confidence, anxiety, and failed product applications in mind, it is no surprise that many neurodiverse people are struggling to manage their debt effectively. They are much less likely to be debt-free; just 15% of people with neuropsychological conditions report having no debt, in marked contrast to 39% of neurotypical respondents. And, over half of neurodiverse people (54%) state they are concerned about getting into debt, and a similar proportion (52%) say that paying their bills and rent or mortgage are a concern.

Some of this increased debt is so called ‘good debt’, like student loans; 16% of neurodiverse people have student loans, versus 7% of neurotypicals. This is likely due to the higher rate of neuro diagnoses in younger people; 53% of Gen Z’s surveyed as part of The Vulnerability Void have been diagnosed with a neuropsychological condition, versus 37% of Millennials and 14% of Gen X.

But across almost every form of ‘bad debt’, neurodiverse people are also over-indexed. 18% have buy-now-pay-later loans, and 16% use store cards. More concerningly, 14% are in utilities arrears, 14% are in rent arrears, and more than one in ten (11%) have pay day loans.

It is clear that the current financial landscape has left many neurodiverse people with feelings of anxiety and tangibly worse financial health.

The Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) Consumer Duty mandate, taking effect in July, is seeking to redress this balance and improve financial customer journeys for all people living with some form of vulnerability, including the neurodiverse. But with the deadline fast approaching, there are concerns over just how many organisations will meet the deadlines and have invested effectively in improving the experience of the neurodiverse, which typically starts with the online consumer experience.

Junaid Mujaver, Partner at Newton, comments: “It is clear that the current financial landscape has left many neurodiverse people with feelings of anxiety and tangibly worse financial health. This is especially true of digital journeys, which have the greatest volume of customer interactions and are often poorly designed, even though they are the preferred method for many neurodiverse people who would rather avoid the anxiety of social interaction. And if neurodiverse customers feel they’re being treated without due care by financial organisations, leaving them ‘at risk of harm’, the FCA may consider those firms in breach of the Consumer Duty regulations.

“The responsibility lies with financial services firms to take action, and fast. Firms need to use psychology to help analyse where online journey designs are not working for people with differing support needs. They need to build teams with the right tools and networks of lived experience to help them create solutions that work. These solutions don’t have to be technically complicated, they could be using the right language to reduce anxiety, signposting journeys to help those with dementia, adding friction points at key decisions in credit journeys to avoid ill-informed, rushed financial decisions.

“Making these improvements should not be considered a compliance-only problem, or as meeting the needs of a small minority. Neurodiversity diagnoses are on the rise, especially in younger generations, so should not be considered a small minority of the population and best practice solutions help everyone, neurodiverse or otherwise. Solving this issue is in everyone’s best interest – the organisations which do it most effectively will be most compliant, more commercially successful, and most empathetic to the diversity and brilliance of the human condition.”

Newton has just launched NOVA, the Newton Online Vulnerability Assessment, a framework which assesses online journeys. It incorporates leading accessibility best practice and behavioural psychology to help organisations feel confident that their digital journeys are adhering to the industry regulatory requirements for all forms of vulnerability, including neurodiversity.