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Saving their way to freedom

Stacey* says learning to save has helped her feel like a new person.

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“[I used to have] these money worries,” she says. “But since going through the program it has given me an absolute freedom which I didn’t think I was going to have for years to come.” 

" Since going through the program it has given me an absolute freedom which I didn’t think I was going to have for years to come.” – Stacey*

That feeling is one shared by many participants in matched-savings programs, which have been conclusively shown to improve money habits and build assets for the future. Indeed, supporting saving can help improve people’s overall financial health – and change lives - new research from ANZ and RMIT confirms.

RMIT University’s Saver Plus: Pathways to Wellbeing report shows participants in ANZ’s matched-savings program Saver Plus had an average financial wellbeing score of 64 out of 100 following the program, in excess of the national average score of just 59.

The report aligns with research showing active savings is one of the most important behaviours contributing to financial wellbeing, benefitting not only the individual participant but their households, community and broader economy.

This financial resilience helps contribute to financially healthy communities and economies, other research shows.

Importantly, RMIT’s study found up to seven years after completing Saver Plus, 87 per cent of participants were still saving the same amount or more, showcasing the long-lasting effect of such schemes.

Of those completions, 73 per cent said they were now better able to provide for their families, highlighting the broader impact of the change. 

Cushion

An effective savings culture in a home can provide a cushion against economic shocks. The confidence which comes from knowing there are resources available to cope with unexpected expenses or a loss of income has a positive effect on people’s mindsets.

Even having relatively small amounts of savings can have a positive effect on financial resilience.

While there has long been policy and academic attention given to the importance of retirement savings, more recently there has been a greater focus on the role of precautionary or emergency savings in preventing financial hardship. The global financial crisis brought the need for emergency funds into sharp focus as the most-severely affected were households without emergency savings.

Plus Plus

The year is the first time RMIT has measured financial wellbeing arising from ANZ’s long-running Saver Plus program.

The program was developed by ANZ and the Brotherhood of St Laurence to encourage saving for educational expenses.  It was initially based on international models which showed evidence building savings could help people overcome disadvantage.

The free program is funded by ANZ and the Australian Government. More than 36,000 people have participated since 2003; the majority being women. It was the first program of its kind in Australia and is now the largest and longest-running matched savings program in the world.

Other key findings from RMIT’s report include that 72 per cent of participants had the total value of their savings increase after the program, while 80 per cent said it helped them gain more control over their finances.

To date, Saver Plus participants have saved more than $A19 million, with ANZ matching these savings up to $500 per person. 

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Perfect match

RMIT’s report also sets out how the number of matched savings programs globally has grown considerably since their inception. They serve as a practical embodiment of the theory that for people to move out of poverty they need assets as well as income.

Such programs aim to encourage participants to develop a regular saving habit, build financial capabilities and save for an asset – be it a home, enterprise, education or savings.

The extensive research on matched savings programs since the 1990s has found other important outcomes include increasing participant self-confidence, future outlook, capabilities and overall wellbeing. 

How saving is changing

The basic components of matched savings programs have remained relatively unchanged since their inception but some innovation has occurred.  

Innovations have been mostly driven by advances in technology and incorporating the principles of behavioural economics to better meet the needs of participants.

Scalability

Many efforts in the US and Canada have been devoted to making programs scalable. Matched savings programs are inherently costly to run as they require significant resources to implement and maintain.

The aim of scalability is to retain the quality of outcomes while reducing costs to administer the program and extending its reach.

In the US, certain legislation has led to the proliferation of small programs run by small community organisations, leading to a large number of programs facing significant costs for a small number of participants -  making it more difficult for the programs to be sustainable.

There is much to be said for the Saver Plus model where investment is targeted towards one program rather than many smaller programs.

Teachable moments

In recent years, a popular innovation showing positive results has been the integration of matched savings programs into frontline services such as housing and employment.

Integrated matched savings programs when combined with life events or other needs, harness the potential of ‘teachable moments’. The MyPath Savings Initiative in San Francisco has integrated a savings program into an existing youth development and employment program.

Under the scheme, young people receiving their first pay directed a portion into a savings account. Results showed increases to participants’ financial knowledge, financial self-efficacy and other positive behaviour.

Fintech

Ongoing advances in financial technology are being harnessed within the matched-savings fields, with the development of mobile applications and online platforms to improve efficiencies in delivering matched savings programs and the experiences of participants.

The Boston Federal Reserve has introduced an app into its matched savings programs, which provides individuals with secure and real time updates and information of their saving progress, customised updates and reminders based on their savings behaviours.

The app provides targeted assistance to individuals to stay on track and keep on top of their savings.

Roslyn Russell is a Professor in the School of Economics, Finance and Marketing at RMIT University

Saver Plus is delivered by ANZ in partnership with Brotherhood of St Laurence, The Smith Family, Berry Street, The Benevolent Society and other local community agencies across 60 Australian communities.

You can read more information at www.anz.com/saverplus or www.bsl.org.au/saverplus

 

Extracts for this article and International literature review compiled by Russell et. al. (RMIT University, 2018) in the report Saver Plus: Pathways to wellbeing.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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