9 in 10 Want Flexible Pay: Impact of Earned Wage Access Revealed, in New Study From Wagestream, 60 Decibels

LONDON--()--The impact of Earned Wage Access—whereby employers remove extended, locked pay cycles and return to more flexible pay cycles—has been revealed, in the industry’s first in-depth impact assessment. The analysis was carried out by leading financial charities, social impact research firm 60 Decibels, and charity-backed financial wellbeing service Wagestream.

Estimates suggest over 15 million workers now have Earned Wage Access (EWA). Sometimes incorrectly referred to as an ‘advance’ or ‘early’ wage access, EWA sees employers return to offering staff flexible access to wages already earned and owed, throughout the month—typically within a broader financial wellbeing programme. EWA replaces the extended, locked pay cycle concept, invented in the 1960s as banking infrastructure evolved and processing fees became expensive for employers and banking providers.

With regulators in the United Kingdom and United States publishing guidance this year on responsible EWA, 9 in 10 now say they prefer flexible pay over alternatives. Employers already offering EWA include Walmart, Pizza Hut, Brewdog, JD Sports, Berkshire Hathaway, Bupa, Virgin Care and Adecco.

The EWA Impact Assessment, H1 2021 is based on global benchmarks for financial inclusion, surveys of 2,200 workers, and 1 million transactions among workers using Wagestream – whose financial wellbeing app includes an EWA feature alongside financial education, coaching, budgeting and savings.

Findings included:

  • Workers choose to replicate weekly pay, accessing pay 1-3 times / mth
  • Use of EWA is consistent, primarily for bills (33%) and groceries (21%)
  • Stress decreases, for 77% of those using EWA
  • Financial confidence improves, with 72% feeling more in control
  • Budgeting improves, for 55%; only 2% struggled to adjust
  • Savings behaviours improve, but require further analysis

Tom Adams, co-founder of 60 Decibels, whose partners and clients include Unilever, the World Health Organisation, and the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office, said: “It’s inspiring to see a new breed of ethical fintech ventures like Wagestream taking impact measurement seriously. In taking on deeply entrenched social problems, it’s critical that providers of financial wellbeing services take the time to listen to users and build responsible services based on those learnings. The fact they are willing to share these results with peers, clients and wider industry is a powerful step towards encouraging transparency and collaboration.”

Findings on the wider social impact of EWA included:

  • Quality of life increases: for 72%, outperforming global benchmarks on financial inclusion
  • Debt cycles recede: users rely less on emergency income access over time
  • Reliance on high-cost credit decreases: 88% for payday loans; 39% for credit cards
  • Workers prefer it: 89% say EWA is better than any alternative

Big Society Capital is the UK’s leading social impact investor and a contributor to the report. Phillipp Essl, Senior Social Impact Director at Big Society Capital, said: “The growth of Wagestream shows it is possible to scale fintech propositions which directly address social challenges like financial inclusion. And by investing in impact measurement, learning through data and sharing findings along the way, they can play an important role as a market leader in encouraging similar levels of transparency from other providers and employers. This is a hugely positive development, and a great demonstration of the power of impact measurement.”

Emma Steele, Investment Director for the Fair by Design campaign, said: “It’s been known for some time that longer, locked pay cycles can lead to irregular spending patterns and liquidity problems for workers. This compounds other aspects of the Poverty Premium, including a lack of access to affordable credit and other core financial tools, all of which are experienced by much of the working population: the result is that they can act as a debt trap. It’s encouraging to see the voice of the employee being heard, and I hope the findings will help the wider industry work together with employers on removing that problem, allowing pay to empower workers in lifting themselves out of these cycles into a positive financial journey."

The H1 2021 EWA Impact Assessment is available at: www.ewaimpact.org

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About the research

The H1 2021 EWA Impact Assessment is based on data collected and analysed between H2 (June-December) 2020:

  • Perception data, collected through surveys of 2,220 EWA users
  • Usage data, based on 1,000,000 EWA transactions through Wagestream
  • Social impact data, set by the 60 Decibels impact measurement framework

The primary contributors to report were:



Callum McCaig

Release Summary

The impact of Earned Wage Access has been revealed, in the first in-depth study on using technology to replace extended, locked pay with flexible pay.


Callum McCaig