In research undertaken by a collection of leading financial charities, the social impact research firm 60 Decibels, and the charity-backed financial wellbeing service Wagestream, the impact of Earned Wage Access – a growing trend which sees employers removing locked monthly pay cycles and returning to more flexible pay cycles – has been revealed.
Sometimes incorrectly referred to as an ‘advance’ or ‘early’ wage access, Earned Wage Access (EWA) – which is now estimated to be engaged by 15 million workers worldwide – sees employers return to offering staff flexible access to wages already earned and owed, throughout the month; typically within a broader financial wellbeing programme. EWA replaces the extended, locked pay cycle concept, invented in the 1960s as banking infrastructure evolved and processing fees became expensive for employers and banking providers.
With regulators in the United Kingdom and the United States publishing formal guidance on moving from monthly to flexible pay, a majority of employers are now planning or implementing a financial wellbeing policy (CIPD); whilst 89% of workers admitting to how they prefer EWA over any alternative, with the majority choosing a weekly pay cadence when given the choice.
Employers now offering EWA as part of a financial wellbeing policy include Bupa, Brewdog, JD Sports, Pizza Hut, Leon, Virgin Care, Roadchef and the NHS.
Available online, the EWA Impact Assessment, H1 2021 is based on global benchmarks for financial inclusion, surveys of 2,200 UK workers, and analysis of over 1million transactions among workers using Wagestream – whose financial wellbeing app includes an EWA feature alongside financial education, coaching, budgeting and savings features.
Findings on usage and impact of returning to flexible pay included:
- Workers typically replicate a weekly pay cadence, accessing pay between 1 and 3 times a month.
- Use of EWA during the month remained consistent, primarily for bills (33%) and groceries (21%).
- Stress reduced for 77% of workers offered a return to flexible pay.
- Financial resilience improved, with 72% feeling more in control of their money.
- Money planning improved for 55% of those surveyed; with just 2% struggling to adjust.
- Savings behaviours improved but remains an area for further analysis.
“It’s already known that extended, locked pay cycles – a newer concept than many realise – lead to irregular spending patterns and liquidity problems for workers. This compounds an underlying lack of access to affordable credit, experienced by much of the working population: the result is that they can act as a debt trap,” comments Carl Packman, Head of Corporate Engagement for the Fair by Design charity campaign. “It’s encouraging to now see the voice of the employee being heard, and I hope the findings will help the wider industry work together with employers on removing that problem, making pay work harder for the individual.”
Findings on the wider social impact of removing locked monthly pay cycles included:
Quality of life: rose for 72%, outperforming global benchmarks on financial inclusion.
Debt cycles recede: with users gradually relying less on emergency income access over time.
Reliance on predatory, high-cost credit reduced: 88% for payday loans; 39% for credit cards.
Workers prefer it: 89% say EWA is better than any alternative.
Workers recommend it: the ‘promoter score’ of 56 outperforms global benchmarks on financial inclusion.
Authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), Big Society Capital is the UK-based social impact investor and a contributor to the report.
“The growth of Wagestream shows it is possible to scale fintech propositions which directly address social challenges like financial inclusion,” comments the Senior Social Impact Director at Big Society Capital Philipp Essl. “And by investing in impact measurement, learning through data and sharing findings along the way, they can play an important role as a market leader in encouraging similar levels of transparency from other providers and employers. This is a hugely positive development, and a great demonstration of the power of impact measurement.”
Tom Adams, Co-Founder of 60 Decibels, whose partners and clients include Unilever, the World Health Organisation, and the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office, added “It’s inspiring to see a new breed of ethical fintech ventures like Wagestream taking impact measurement seriously. In taking on deeply entrenched social problems, it’s critical that providers of financial wellbeing services take the time to listen to users, study the impact and put the results into action, building responsible services based on those learnings. The fact they are willing to share these results with peers, clients and wider industry is a powerful step towards encouraging transparency and collaboration, which can only be a good thing for everyone.”