People working in consumer finance who want to share perspectives across different sectors and disciplines face a communication problem: finding a shared language to talk about people and trying to understand their lives.
The bad news is that “thought silos” persist and block possibilities for valuable collaborations. The good news is that a great deal of collaborative work is already underway that demonstrates the value of getting past the silos.
A major obstacle to knowledge sharing is that the language that different sectors of consumer finance use lends the impression that we are trying to achieve different ends.
Commercial businesses, such as banks, tend to refer to people as “consumers.”
Governments have “citizens.” Product developers and designers more commonly refer to people as “users.”
Microfinance has “clients,” and academic researchers usually have “subjects” or perhaps “participants.”
Of course, it makes sense that we use different terms to refer to the people we work with, because we do have specific aims and goals. Selling someone a credit product is clearly not the same thing as running a financial literacy project; launching a mobile money service seems miles away from running a lab experiment on, say, risk-taking behavior.
However, our language differences obscure the fact that we are often trying to answer the same basic question: what drives people to make financial decisions for themselves and their households?