Autumn 2019 newsletter: Self-employed project

Nest Insight has partnered with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on a two-year programme of research to encourage increased pension engagement amongst the self-employed workforce. We’ll work with software providers that serve self-employed people, like fintech firms, payment processors and marketplaces. These platforms will give us access to the daily decisions of their users, enabling us to explore and test different approaches. We spoke to behavioural scientist, Madeline Quinlan who has been leading on the project to get some insight on the research already begun.

What do you think is the motivation for partners interested in signing up to be involved in these trials?

There is a general consensus among these organisations that self-employed people are underserved in the context of pensions and retirement saving, and we’re seeing a lot of these conversations off the back of auto-enrolment. There is a palpable desire for organisations and associations in the self-employed eco-system to collaborate and share information in order to inform and shape products and policy around self-employed people and their financial futures. There’s also the suggestion that these types of products our research is exploring could have further benefits in serving other groups and could really shape the future of financial savings behaviour in a variety of contexts.

Have there been any changes along the way or has this panned out like you expected?

Both really! In some ways, the talent and consistency of those involved in the project has made it possible to keep the programme moving along, and watching the work come together has been such a testament to those efforts. On the other hand, setting up these kinds of behavioural trials is complex. We’re intervening in people’s financial lives, so we have to work hard to make sure we’re acting appropriately. But I am so confident in the robust set of trials and fully aware of how far reaching this research could be in terms of the future of policy making, and I’ve really been blown out of the water by the level of interest in the project.

How far along are you with the research?

We’ve finished the first exploratory stage of research, which included a literature review of best practice, qualitative exploration of message frames and a quantitative study looking at the different platforms and services used by self-employed people which could potentially be used to offer savings tools and mechanisms relevant to their lives.  A report of this research will be / is available …(details of how to get it). Building from this learning we have launched two randomised control email trials – with the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) and Nest members who are self-employed. We’ll be reporting the results in the new year.

What has been the most rewarding thing so far?

Personally, the most rewarding part of the programme has been encountering so many different partners and organisations that want this project to succeed. I really believe in the quality of the research we have begun with DWP, which uses behavioural science to inform social policy. I can see the work that we are doing facilitating the current gap in the self-employed retirement model. I myself am self-employed and work with numerous other self-employed individuals, so the personal connection is huge for me.  We need to continue to be smarter about both financial products and context design to help all sorts of workers.

Further reading

If you would like to learn more about this research programme, please visit: The initial results of our joint project with the DWP will be released Autumn 2019.