Saving in times of trouble

17 Apr, 2020

Saving and borrowing are the bedrocks of the financial services industry. Getting people to borrow money isn’t very difficult but getting people to save it is a different story.

Saving is hard at the best of times. It involves sacrifice in the short-term for the benefit of the long-term. And that is not easy for humans. We are psychologically wired for short-term survival; if we don’t survive today, tomorrow is irrelevant and so we have evolved that way.

Those who overcome this psychological hurdle will be very glad they did because at times like these savings make a huge difference. Hundreds of thousands of people are currently losing their jobs, finding work drying up, being furloughed or retiring and without savings life can look pretty bleak.

But even those with savings find it hard. Savings are for saving not for spending and spending savings is stressful. We are also psychologically wired to avoid loss. This loss aversion is pretty powerful because we have evolved that way. Hanging onto what you’ve got is a sensible survival instinct. The result of this bit of psychology is that spending our savings doesn’t usually feel too good.

Savings play a huge part of the financial services market: bank savings, ISAs, pensions, life assurance products. And they’ve always been difficult to market.

Practically and entirely rationally, savings are difficult, simply because most people just don’t have enough to save. There isn’t much we can do to change that. Psychologically and emotionally they are hard too but there is something marketers can do about that. Clearly and persuasively painting a picture of how much better life could be with some savings, getting people to see that the future is closer than they realise (time is relative) and turning the loss aversion into the pleasure of gain are all motivations that can override our natural instinct.

This is much more important than the success of financial services brands. This is about creating a more stable society that has a fighting chance of getting through the hard times as well as the good times.