User Experiences of Digital Financial Risks and Harms

Posted by Amrita Sengupta, Chiara Furtado, Garima Agrawal, Nishkala Sekhar, Puthiya Purayil Sneha, and Yesha Tshering Paul at Dec 15, 2023 12:00 AM |
The reach and use of digital financial services has risen in recent years without a commensurate increase in digital literacy and access. Through this project, supported by a grant from Google(.)org, we will examine the landscape of potential risks and harms posed by digital financial services, and the disproportionate risk that information asymmetry and barriers to access pose for users, especially certain marginalised communities.

Project Background

There is a big evidence gap in the understanding of the financial risks and harms experienced by users of digital financial services. Consequently, adequate consumer protection frameworks and processes to address these harms have been lagging. A survey of 32,000 Indian consumers found only 17% who lost money through banking frauds were able to recoup their funds. Filling this gap is crucial to inform responsive policy making, platform design and data governance.

While a lot more attention is paid to financial frauds and scams, through this study, we aim to situate these alongside experiences of harms that are understudied and sometimes overlooked. Users may also experience financial harm, when negatively impacted by:

  1. Financial misinformation
  2. Loss of control over their assets
  3. Loss of potential income
  4. Difficulty accessing social protection
  5. Financial abuse perpetrated alongside other forms of domestic and family abuse
  6. Unsustainable levels of debt, i.e. over-indebtedness, and
  7. Exclusion from financial services

    The Centre for Internet and Society is undertaking a mixed methods study to better understand user awareness, perceptions and experiences of digital financial risks and harms.

    For this study, we will survey nearly 4000 users, with differing levels of access to digital devices, digital services and the internet, and undertake semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions with specific target groups and stakeholders. We aim to highlight the experiences of persons with disabilities, gender and sexual minorities, the elderly, women, and regional language first users; to better understand how discrimination and exclusion may increase their  burden of risk when using digital financial services.

    Key research questions guiding our project are:

    1. How are digital financial risks understood and experienced by users of digital financial services? Which socioeconomic factors amplify risks for different user groups?
    2. What concerns have emerged relating to data privacy, misinformation, identity theft and other forms of social engineering and mobile app based fraud?
    3. How accessible are providers’ and government’s platform based reporting and grievance redressal systems?
    4. What role can fintech platforms, social media platforms, banking institutions, and regulatory bodies play in reducing digital financial risks across the ecosystem?

    Project Aims

    Through this study, we aim to:

    1. Assess the financial risks and harms users are exposed to when using social media, digital banking, and fintech platforms. While looking at general users, we will also specifically explore this experience for the elderly, gender and sexual minorities, regional language users and persons with visual disabilities.
    2. Develop a framework to categorise the nature of vulnerabilities, risks and harms faced by the concerned user groups
    3. Create a credible evidence base for key stakeholders with regards to experiences of digital financial risks and harm.
    4. Provide recommendations for better policy and platform design to address harms, specifically those arising from lack of accessibility and information asymmetry.
    5. Identify best practices to respond to digital risks and foster safety and equity in digital financial services

    Come Talk to Us:

    If you have experiences or insights to share, or if you're interested in learning more about our study, please reach out.

    We also invite researchers, financial service providers, developers and designers of fintech platforms, and civil society organisations working on digital safety, to speak to us and help inform the study. You may contact [email protected]

    Research Team: Amrita Sengupta, Chiara Furtado, Garima Agrawal, Nishkala Sekhar, Puthiya Purayil Sneha, and Yesha Tshering Paul


    Amrita Sengupta, Chiara Furtado, Garima Agrawal, Nishkala Sekhar, Puthiya Purayil Sneha, and Yesha Tshering Paul