Lincoln Tan

Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

Facing up to your finances

Thousands of people have completed the online scan offered by BNZ, and many have shared the experience on Facebook.
Thousands of people have completed the online scan offered by BNZ, and many have shared the experience on Facebook.

Facial recognition software used to identify how people feel about money is being described as an overwhelming success by the bank that launched it.

Called EmotionScan, the online feature linking facial expression to personal finance management skills was developed by the Bank of New Zealand in partnership with a psychologist, Dr Stuart Carr, and Swiss emotion software firm nViso.

But some critics doubt a computer scan can accurately show a person's skill with managing money.

The software analyses facial expressions as participants listen to a series of scenarios designed around eight financial areas of interest, namely cash flow, budgeting, mortgages, retirement, financial security, financial control, debt, dependents, donations and savings.

It aims to highlight the financial areas people are most comfortable with and those they need to address.

In the two weeks since its introduction, thousands have completed the online scan and 50,000 viewed the "making of" video on YouTube.

University of Auckland school of psychology lecturer Danny Osborne said the software seemed to be similar to a lie detector.

Dr Osborne said he was familiar with work on non-verbal cues but had not seen anything on how this information could be used to predict people's financial management skills.

"It's measuring something, but might not be what the banks think they're measuring," he said.

This is the first time the software, initially developed to help with researching consumer reactions to advertisements and new product development ideas, has been used to gauge people's emotional response to finances.

Dr Carr, a Massey University professor of psychology, says emotion is becoming an increasingly recognised factor in financial decision-making.

BNZ spokesman Thor Bostelmann said one in eight people have shared their EmotionScan experience with friends on Facebook.

"BNZ will collect aggregated results so we can determine what areas New Zealanders are comfortable with and concerned with as a group," he said.

Computers with a web camera are required for participants to complete the scan at www.emotionscan.co.nz.

Mr Bostelmann assured that no individual results would be used and that email addresses and captured images during the scan are confidential.

Credibility sorely tested

When I turn 65, I will either be the owner of a fully paid-up mansion or be completely broke and homeless.

This is if I choose to believe the test results of my EmotionScan.

Sitting through the four-minute scans twice, the results could not have been more contrasting. One said I am confident about retirement but least comfortable about savings. The other said I am least comfortable about retirement and best with budgeting.

One area of concern indicated debt and financial control, and the other mortgages and cashflow.

The tool I use to manage my money is called "the wife", without whom I probably wouldn't have savings. But this is something the scan would probably not be able to detect from my face.

BNZ chief marketing officer Craig Herbison is urging participants to head to BNZ stores to talk about areas of concern after completing the test. Based on my results maybe I would have to head to BNZ twice.

It may use state-of-the-art software, but looking at my results, it seems no different to arcade machines that scan two faces to predict how their babies would look.

- NZ Herald

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