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RCA students partner with Rainbird and EY

Developing AI banking apps that help vulnerable customers

The RCA’s MA Service Design Programme collaborated with Rainbird (intelligent automation platform) and EY (global consultancy) to develop cutting-edge AI-enabled apps that will help vulnerable banking customers better manage their finances and navigate the complex financial services industry.

  • Rainbird and EY offered industry knowledge and expertise to students enrolled on the RCA Service Design Programme course.
  • The partnership examined how banking and financial systems can recognise and support vulnerable customers.
  • Students presented their proposed apps to a distinguished panel and detailed the resources needed to bring their ideas to life, a clear timeline and implementation budgets.
  • The proposed solutions align with guidelines set by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) on how to assist vulnerable people, and comply with GDPR.

The Challenge

With an expected increase in the number of people classified as a ‘vulnerable customer’, following the severe economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, there has never been a more pressing time to help those struggling to navigate the financial services landscape. 

RCA Approach

MA Service Design students conducted face-to-face interviews with people categorised as vulnerable (prior to social distancing guidelines), to ensure a human-centred approach to the AI solutions they created.


The outcomes included mapping out a wide range of vulnerability use cases and value propositions, including:

  • A preventive service that applies consumer gamification and incentives to nudge users towards positive behavioural changes. The service is designed to use Rainbird to generate a “wellbeing score” that helps banks recognise those who need extra support. 
  • A service aimed at preventing financial abuse by improving the joint account service for couples. One in five adults is a victim of financial abuse (most of these being women). The service is designed to use Rainbird to identify potentially vulnerable people by analysing suspicious transaction patterns, unusual behaviour and words used in help centres.
  • A service designed to boost financial literacy among young people, whom are highly represented among vulnerable customers. The service would use Rainbird to identify the potentially vulnerable, based on multifactorial signs of low resilience (e.g. low savings or over-indebtedness), and deliver automated, contextual advice.


James Loft, COO at Rainbird, 'As banks are increasingly tantamount to online businesses, the nuanced and careful consideration of a customer’s circumstances should be incorporated within technologies used to assess vulnerability. The complex factors that influence a bank’s assessment of transient or compounding vulnerability can be reliably handled only by technology with human knowledge at its core.'

Chris Withers, Head of AI and Advanced Analytics, Financial Services at EY: 'Improving outcomes for society’s most vulnerable citizens is an issue that will be even more urgent as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. There are no simple solutions to improve a person’s life situation or break a cycle of financial abuse or neglect, but there are defining moments where data, information and technology can come together to provide benefits to those people who are more vulnerable at any given point in time. The RCA students have designed solutions which demonstrate the art of the possible for all of us who participate in the financial services sector.'

Get in touch to find out more about Knowledge Exchange at the RCA.

Find out more about programmes in the School of Design.
Partner: EY and Rainbird
Industry: Financial Services
Project dates: 2020
RCA StaffClive Grinyer
"At the RCA Service Design course, we apply design approaches and methodologies to some of the biggest problems facing society and businesses. The opportunity to work with Rainbird, to develop new ways of identifying and helping people in vulnerable circumstances, fits perfectly that ethos. Our students have the opportunity to experiment and shape how AI and financial services can create real solutions to these problems." Clive Grinyer

Head of Service Design