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Fintech for Good: Using Tech to Tackle the Cost of Living Crisis


Ren Hooi explains how technology can help us tackle the cost of living crisis.


Dec 26, 2022


Founder and CEO of Lightning Reach, an award-winning social impact startup


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Winter isn’t coming—it’s here. And for 1 in 4 people at financial risk within the UK—and billions more facing rising costs of living globally—this raises stark choices between heating and eating, or even keeping their homes. 

There is support available from an array of public, private, and nonprofit organizations, yet the current landscape is fragmented and difficult to navigate, with many getting lost in the maelstrom of complexity and paperwork involved. Over 56% of people do not know what support could be available to them, resulting in over £16 billion in benefits, grants, and other financial support missed out on each year in the UK alone. Meanwhile, organizations providing support often struggle to reach those in need, lose valuable time on lengthy administration and duplicate efforts signposting people to other places.

Luke, an air force veteran who tried to seek support from charities when he was out of work, describes: “It was like trying to pull teeth. The process would just make people give up. Speaking to the right person was the big problem…finding someone who can actually do something to help is a challenge. It’s disheartening with all the forms and chasing.”

While large gaps exist within the system, I saw the potential for technology to make a massive difference, and was moved to act when the pandemic struck and the economy was hit overnight. Having led the product team of a rapidly-scaling Fintech company in the UK, and from my experience working within social impact organizations around the world, I knew fintech innovations could be applied to transform traditional ways of working in the social and public sectors. As such, I founded Lightning Reach with the aim to harness technology for good in the following ways:

Connecting People to the Support They Need

We can use technology to identify people in need, instantly connecting them to relevant support that suits their circumstances, and making it easier and safer for them to access that support.  With 99% of the UK population online, digital channels are increasingly important for communication and service delivery. At Lightning Reach, our free one-stop portal allows anyone to find and apply for a range of financial support which suits their circumstances within minutes. By filling in a simple online questionnaire on any device, people can check for schemes they could be eligible for, and go on to apply seamlessly without repeating their details each time.

Streamlining the administration process
For organizations, technology can also cut down time on administration and speed up the process of assessing/verifying those seeking support. At a basic level, smaller charities that rely on paper forms can utilize online application forms, removing the need for manual data entry and filing. Additional modern tools such as open banking and identity verification, which we integrate into our platform, can help to securely gather required information (such as proof of one’s financial circumstances or identity) more quickly and accurately. This can save hours of time spent processing each case, while protecting against the risks of fraud.

Harnessing Data to Evaluate and Enhance Impact

Technology also makes it easier to proactively gather useful data and insights, enabling organizations to proactively identify those who may be most at financial risk before they fall into crisis. At Lightning Reach, we have seen over 25,000 people register on our platform over the last year, with successful applicants receiving over £2m in funding – which has allowed us to start getting a meaningful understanding of who is accessing support, as well as those falling through the cracks. Over time, the data can help us to track and evaluate impact, support coordination between organizations and inform both policy and practical decisions.

Going back to Luke, he found that technology transformed his experience of seeking support in using the Lightning Reach portal. “Putting all support under one click of a button has taken all the stress away from applying for support – it’s been a massively positive experience. Applying to the RAF Benevolent Fund through Lightning Reach was the easiest application I have ever done in my life. Everything was obvious and you can securely link bank details.”

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No matter what you do or what sector you work in, there are actions you can take to help tackle the cost of living crisis and support others with the use of technology. Here are five ideas to get you started:

1. Advocate
Encourage business leaders within your network to think about how they can use technology for good, as well as collaborate with other organizations to put the needs of people at the center.
2.
Connect

If you’re working on the cost of living crisis or know others doing so, reach out to those actively working in advocacy (like me!) We are always looking for others to join the cause. There is power in numbers.

3. Fund

If you can afford it, donate unrestricted funding to frontline organizations so they can invest in technology solutions. Additionally, consider investing in tech-for-good startups that are innovating in this area like ours—this will help us build and grow faster.

4. Volunteer

If you have some knowledge of technology, you could help educate those who don’t through local outreach organizations. (A quick search of “computer/digital literacy” would do the trick!) If you’re an expert, consider supporting smaller organizations in developing their capacity.

5. Share 

Those struggling with the costs of living may well include your colleagues, neighbors or friends. Sharing resources like the Lightning Reach portal could prove useful for them.

The cost of living crisis is impacting millions of people in the UK, and billions abroad. Technology can play a critical role in ensuring that funding gets to those who need it, and ensuring organizations deliver support effectively. We need to work together across a fragmented ecosystem to accelerate its impact—and you can help to make a difference.



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