Is Finance for Women Easier If a Pink Robot Gives the Advice?

It doesn’t have to be like this.

Photo: Pixabay

If you’re a woman and you also care about your finances, let me ask you a question: do the apps that exist to help you tend to your finances scare you because of their overbearing, aggressively masculine, intimidating nature? Do you look at your app and think to yourself, Hmm, I wish this thing was pink and friendly, not full of sharp edges and admonishments?

Great news, women! Joy is here for you. It’s an app that functions like Digit and other savings apps, but with the added bonus of advice.

Futuristic Fintech, With a Female Focus

Joy is an app created by Scott Saunders, the CEO of Payoff, an online lending company. As per the Wall Street Journal, Saunders wasn’t intending on building an online financial app that appealed strictly to women, even though that’s what he managed to come up with.

The goal: to build an app that used psychological testing to match users of both genders with artificially intelligent financial coaches. By focusing on the intersection of money and psychology, Saunders hoped to minimize financial stress and maximize the pleasure users get from spending and saving.

The financial coaches that the app uses are robots that give advice, because, according to focus groups, “robots seemed less judgmental.” I suppose it’s easier to listen to a robot tell you that you should be putting more money in your 401(k), but I think having a person tell you that would be just the same. Early tests revealed that women preferred Joy; the team of men that was working on Joy enlisted a PR firm that works in beauty and fashion to make Joy look colorful and bright and happy. “Men are more than welcome to use Joy, Saunders says, but the app is unmistakably marketed to women, who remain an underserved market in financial services.”

A quick look at their Instagram shows that the overall branding and messaging is to promote happiness and, well, joy, stripping away the despair and the heartache of dealing with your finances by couching it in language that’s gendered in a way that feels pandering and infantilizing and entirely unnecessary.

The language choices are specific — Joy is targeting women by working against the industry standard of speaking bluntly about finance.

“The psychology of the existing financial system is that it’s incredibly male-oriented,”[Saunders] says. “It’s transactional, power-focused, ruthlessly competitive and based on literal conversation.” According to Taussig, women tend to think about their financial lives in terms of life milestones, such as marriage, divorce and taking care of children and parents. “Men look at it more as a competition. ‘How am I doing? What’s my performance? Am I beating the index?’ ”

Joy works by asking its users a set of questions meant to determine where they’re at in regards to five personality traits; based on their answers, users are siloed into one of ten different personality types. The AI uses your information to tailor the robots to what it thinks you’ll need.

Joy’s robot coaches combine those results with bank and credit account information to tailor their tone and feedback. The coaching becomes more individualized as Joy’s robots gather data on income, spending and consumer satisfaction. Users are asked to rate every purchase they make according to how happy or sad it made them, allowing the robots to track patterns and make recommendations.

Really, Joy works by attempting to execute a post-mortem KonMari on your spending habits. Everyone’s different; some people will ask themselves if buying a new shirt or some Drano and a bag of Skittles makes them happy or sad. Others will buy those things without thinking and then beat themselves up about it afterwards. The screenshots provided by the Wall Street Journal show a yellow robot named Dash that operates kind of like an annoying friend, popping in every now and then to ask you how you feel about the things you’ve recently purchased. Is it helpful to conduct this kind of post-game analysis on your spending? Maybe. Will a robot asking you probing questions make you feel better or worse about what you bought? Maybe not.

As WorthFM founder Amanda Steinberg tells the WSJ, it’s really a Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus kind of thing: “It isn’t that women want different financial services. It’s that they want the advice delivered differently.”

I am all for Joy’s intent, but their messaging is less than ideal. Women be shopping. Women run up their credit cards on shoes and macarons and face cream. Women can’t take financial advice unless it’s wrapped in glitter and dressed like a unicorn. Once again — their intent is good! Tailoring the language of advice to adapt to the needs of the individual is great; it just seems kind of crazy that it had to be like this.

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