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The small print - financial contract translator

Please respond to our user needs survey - Making the small print legible, accessible and engaging.

Photo of Jes Simson
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Who does this idea benefit, who are the main players and what's in it for them?

Increasing financial literacy for loans at the point of purchase by making financial terms and their consequences really clear, accessible and engaging. Primarily focused on unsecured loans with high interest rates (pay day loans, credit cards, pawning agreements, credit to purchase goods or services (like those offered by some electronic / furniture shops, car companies and builders)).

How is your idea specifically using the power of communities to improve financial opportunities and resources?

Using crowdsourcing mechanisms to help connect people who want to know what the financial implications of taking a loan will be with a community of experts who can clearly communicate that cost.

What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

Prototyping Need: Sitting down with someone who might take out a high interest loan to explore (1) their decision making process regarding the loan; and (2) pain points relating to understanding the consequences that fall out of a financial contract.

Prototyping translators: Creating a video pitching the idea at the people who would help translate the contracts and see how they react to the idea.

What skills, input or guidance might you be seeking from the OpenIDEO community to help you build out or refine your idea further?

Poke holes in the idea, tell me what's working and what isn't. Share your experiences around interpreting financial contracts - what was difficult, what was easy, did you pay much attention to the terms, have any terms bitten you later on?

This idea emerged from:

  • An individual
Here's a survey to start mapping the pain points around engaging with financial contracts.  Please feel free to submit a response or ask people in your community to.  The more the merrier!


Finance contracts can be really difficult to understand.  They don't need to be.  

The Small Print app will help people translate the risks and obligations imposed by financial contracts into something that is clear, accessible and engaging.  Financial education will be delivered at the key point in time that people really need it, when they are making a big financial decision; (see "Financial education is useless unless it's timely").  The app will specifically focus on unsecured loan agreements (like pay day loans, credit cards, car loans etc) which typically have high interest rates.  

Key Features:

  • App guides user to input key features contained in the contact.  Empowers users to engage with the contract and gain some sense of mastery over it.
  • App will ask questions that guide a user's interaction with the contract - these questions will help the user pull out all of the key information contained in the contract.  This will also help steer the user away from clauses that won't necessarily impact the user's financial health (like mandated privacy statements).
  • App contextualises the loan by asking what it's being used for and then explicitly stating how much money that item will actually cost once the loan has been paid off. 
  • App flags really important clauses that the user probably isn't aware of (eg: clauses that are really lender friendly / hidden fees)
  • Where the contract allows for multiple financial outcomes, the app will clearly step through each option and help the user decide which option is best for them (eg: deciding between a shorter loan with higher interest, or a longer loan with lower interest).  
  • App breaks down financial obligations into something that is really meaningful to the user (eg: a weekly repayment is framed as a dollar amount as well as a % of rent or the grocery bill).  
  • App can tie into bank account / budgeting app to work out if the user is capable of repayments (tacking our optimistic bias that we will be able to meet high repayments in the future).  
  • The consequences of failing to meet those obligations are made really clear (eg: implications for credit score, ability to repossess possessions, emotional costs of being really stressed about money). 
  • App will provide key pointers about key financial concepts (eg: on the page that asks about interest rates, users will have the ability to dive into what interest rates are).
  • App could point to other options (eg: asking if you could hold off purchasing the item / pointing to places with better terms). 

How do we translate this information? 

  • The mechanics of most financial documents are pretty standard - use this to build up questions that you can guide users through.
  • In Australia, banks are required to provided stock disclosure statements - these can largely be assumed in all contracts so can be accounted for easily.
  • If documents are provided in digital format, then users could upload information and app could strip out the important parts
  • Using volunteers to help translate more complex terms using camera or microphone function (kind of like a Be My Eyes).  These 'translations' could then be saved against contracts from specific companies for future use. This function would also work well for people who don't speak the language that the contract is written in. 


Join the conversation:

Photo of Jack Huang

Hi Jes,

Great work on the survey.

Financial literacy is an essential knowledge in today's society and still many people are disadvantaged due to lack of fundamental understanding in basic finance. Banks and Contract lawyers worsen the situation by asking people to sign on hard-to-understanding legal documents that could lead to long term obligations.

Even with a post graduate degree under my bell, I struggled to understand my mortgage contract and had to google my way through the contract to half-understanding some of its contents.

Anyway, I think you should check out LawGeex , the on-line app allows people to upload their legal documents onto their website and it will analyse and give feedback on it. I guess it may match some of your needs.

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