Impact of EWA revealed, as employers ramp up financial wellbeing efforts
~ Latest in-depth study tracked impact of UK employers removing locked pay cycles ~
~ Impact of EWA no longer unknown, or open to speculation—it is known and positive ~
~ Extended, locked pay cycle has become ‘debt trap’ for workers, leading charities say ~
~ Flexible pay reduced stress, shrunk debt cycles, outperformed social impact benchmarks ~
7 June 2021
The impact of Earned Wage Access—whereby employers remove extended, locked pay cycles and return to more flexible pay cycles—has been revealed, in the industry’s first in-depth impact assessment. The analysis was carried out by a group of leading financial charities, social impact research firm 60 Decibels, and charity-backed financial wellbeing service Wagestream.
Estimates suggest over 15 million workers now have Earned Wage Access (EWA), globally. Sometimes incorrectly referred to as an ‘advance’ or ‘early’ wage access, EWA 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 United States publishing formal guidance this year on the benefits of responsible EWA use, a majority of employers are now planning or implementing a financial wellbeing policy (CIPD); 80% of workers now say they would prefer a return to flexible pay over extended, locked pay cycles (EY). Employers already offering EWA as part of a financial wellbeing policy include Walmart, Pizza Hut, Brewdog, JD Sports, Berkshire Hathaway, Bupa, Virgin Care and Adecco.
Now 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 EWA included:
- Workers typically choose to replicate weekly pay, accessing pay 1-3 times / mth
- Use of EWA transfers is consistent, primarily for bills (33%) and groceries (21%)
- Stress is reduced, for 77% of those using EWA
- Financial confidence improves, with 72% feeling more in control of money
- Budgeting improves, for 55%; only 2% struggled to adjust
- Savings behaviours improve, but are an area for further analysis and improvement
Emma Steele, Investment Director for the Fair by Design campaign, said: “It’s been known for some time that longer, locked pay cycles can lead to irregular spending patterns and liquidity problems for workers. This compounds other aspects of the Poverty Premium including an underlying lack of access to affordable credit and other core financial tools such as effective savings, insurance, access to housing, all of which are experienced by much of the working population: the result is that they can act as a debt trap. 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, and allowing pay to empower workers in lifting themselves out of these cycles into a positive financial journey.”
Findings on the wider social impact of removing extended, locked pay cycles included:
- Quality of life: rose for 72%, outperforming global benchmarks on financial inclusion
- Debt cycles recede: users gradually rely 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’s leading social impact investor and a contributor to the report. Phillipp Essl, Senior Social Impact Director at Big Society Capital, said: “The growth of Wagestream shows it is possible to scale fintech propositions which directly address social challenges like financial inclusion. 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, said: “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.”
The H1 2021 EWA Impact Assessment is available at:
About the research:
The H1 2021 EWA Impact Assessment is the latest bi-annual impact assessment carried out by financial wellbeing provider Wagestream, in partnership with leading financial charities, social impact funds, and independent research firm 60 Decibels.
The report is based on data collected and analysed between June-December 2020:
- Perception data, collected through anonymised surveys of 2,220 EWA users
- Usage data, based on a sample 1,000,000 EWA transactions through Wagestream
- Social impact data, set by the 60 Decibels impact measurement framework
The primary contributors to report were:
- Wagestream, the charity-backed financial wellbeing service
- 60 Decibels, a leading social impact measurement business
- Big Society Capital, the UK’s leading social impact investment fund
- Fair By Design, a charitable campaign dedicated to tackling the poverty premium