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Interpreting infrastructure: defining user value for digital financial intermediaries

Research output: Book/Report/ProceedingsCommissioned report

Published
Publication date2014
Publisher3rd Party Dematerialisation and Rematerialisation of Capital
Number of pages29
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

The UK economy has a huge dependence on financial services, and this is
increasingly based on digital platforms. Innovating new economic models around
consumer financial services through the use of digital technologies is seen as
increasingly important in developed economies. There are a number of drivers for
this, ranging from national economic factors to the prosaic nature of enabling
cheap, speedy and timely interactions for users. The potential for these new digital
solutions is that they will allay an over-reliance on the traditional banking sector,
which has proved itself to be unstable and risky, and we have seen a number of
national policy moves to encourage growth in this sector. Partly as a result of the
2008 banking crisis, there has been an explosion in peer-to-peer financial services
for non-professional consumers. These organisations act as intermediaries between
users looking to trade goods or credit. However, building self-sustaining or
profitable financial services within this novel space is itself fraught with commercial,
regulatory, technical and social problems.

This document reports on the value, use and interpretation of infrastructure in digital
intermediaries to their users, describing analysis of contextual field studies carried
out in two retail digital financial intermediary organisations: Zopa Limited and the
Bristol Pound. It forms the second milestone document in the 3DaRoC project,
developing patterns of use that have arisen on the back of the technical
infrastructures in the two organisations that form cases for examination. Its purpose
is to examine how the two different technical infrastructures that underpin the
transactions that they support–composed of the back-office hardware and software,
data structures, the networking and communications technologies used, supported
consumer devices, and the user interfaces and interaction design–have provided opportunities for users to realise their financial and other needs. While we orient
towards the issues of service use (and its problems), we also examine the activities
and expectations of their various users.

Our research has involved teams from Lancaster University examining Zopa and
Brunel University focusing on the Bristol Pound over approximately a one-year
period from October 2013 to October 2014. Extensive interviews, document
analysis, observation of user interactions, and other methods have been employed
to develop the process analyses of the firms presented here.

This report comprises of three key sections: descriptions of the user demographics
for Zopa and the Bristol Pound, a discussion about the user experience and its role
in community, and an examination of the role of usage data in the development of
these a products. We conclude with final analytical section drawing preliminary
conclusions from the research presented.