Money Advice Service: Money lives – a behavioural understanding of financial capability

Guy Shone, Vanessa Hill, Oliver Sweet, Suzanne Hall, Ella Fryer-Smith, Katrina Leary, Ivo Vlaev and Anthony Elliot
Money Advice Service, Ipsos MORI, Imperial College and Fairbanking Foundation


The Money Advice Service (MAS), responsible for increasing financial capability in the UK, commissioned Ipsos MORI & behavioural scientists to understand what financial capability means as part of the lived experience. This was the biggest public sector ethnography study ever conducted directly to influence policy; conducting longitudinal ethnography with 72 different households across the UK, visiting four times over the course of a year (288 ethnographies, with 48 depth interviews).

This project represents an advance in the use of behavioural theory for practical policymaking by moving 'financial capability' beyond a definition based on skills and knowledge, exploring how opportunity, attitudes and motivation drive financial behaviours. Ethnography allowed us to capture peoples' unarticulated financial behaviours, getting to the root of what drives these behaviours. Through a unique set of methods, combining academic literature on behavioural theory with behavioural modelling applied to ethnography, the project created and tested interventions which MAS are now using to influence not only national policy, but the strategy of the wider financial services sector, engaging over 30 organisations so far.