After over a decade of work focussed solely on supporting people who struggle with numbers, we became convinced that practical action by firms to better support customers was both necessary and possible. We established Plain Numbers to do just that.
To their credit most firms are trying hard to support vulnerable customers. However, the recognition that poor numeracy affects approximately half of working-age adults and is therefore the single most common cause of vulnerability is still very low – and unsurprisingly effective practical action to address this vulnerability is therefore rare. Plain Numbers seeks to change this.
At the beginning of this year, we ran five Randomised Controlled Trials to see whether adopting a ‘Plain Numbers Approach’ could change things. This meant working with organisations who were up for a challenge and wanted to contribute to a cross industry initiative to bring about positive change. The Bank of England and five market-leading firms - ClearScore, Thames Water, Octopus Energy, Atlanta Insurance and Direct Line stepped forward to work with us. Research experts, Kantar Public ran the trials in which randomly selected participants saw either the original version of a document (e.g. a bill, an email or a page on a website) or a Plain Numbers version.
The headline from these trials is that the ‘Plain Numbers Approach’ works; across this variety of industries adopting the Plain Numbers Approach doubled the number of people who understood customer information. Click here to read the full report.
We have taken the first step. Now that we’ve shown it is possible for firms to communicate numbers and data in a way that is clear, fair and never misleading – and thereby in a way that the majority of their customers can now understand, we would strongly argue that all organisations should do so. We’re therefore really excited to announce that the BSA has joined HM Treasury and the Bank of England as an Advisory Partner and we are now seeking Partnership with a range of building societies so that we can work together to enable more customers to make more informed choices. The ethos of the BSA and building societies working for their members rather than shareholders, means that there would seem to be a strong fit with what we at Plain Numbers are trying to do – and we therefore hope that you are interested in finding out about what Partnership means in practice; please get in touch if you are.
Mike - For the past twelve years I have run organisations that support people who struggle with numbers. I launched National Numeracy as an independent charity back in 2012 to focus on enabling people to become more confident and competent with numbers; there were plenty of organisations that focussed on words, but none on numbers. We launched Plain Numbers in January this year for a similar reason - we’re here to help you to make numbers and data easier to understand for all customers.
Alison - I have an unusual academic background gaining degrees in Maths and Psychology. I’ve always been fascinated by the way that we think and, more importantly, feel about and numbers and how that may prevent some of us from making good decisions in our lives. My background is as a Partner in blue chip consultancies so it’s really exciting to now provide practical solutions that make a real difference to the millions of customers for whom their primary ‘consumer vulnerability’ is struggling with numbers.
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