Retirement Planning for the Gig Economist

A sprint diary for how we built the PAIV prototype

Jacob Waites
Aug 9, 2018 · 6 min read
How might we help gig economy workers better plan their future retirement?

During one of our recent CoLab explore sprints, one brief stood out to me as being particularly challenging: “Me Now, Me Later” — a brief focused on helping your current self make decisions that benefit your future self.

Understanding the impact of your choices

In our everyday lives, we are forced to make many small seemingly harmless decisions: what to eat, to spend or not to spend, to stay or to go. We often have a clear picture of how these choices will affect us in the short term: if I eat that second slice of pizza, I might feel a little worse later on in the day. But the choices we make also have a creeping effect on our later life that we can’t always see: could eating that pizza bring me one step closer to heart disease? Most definitely. (Did it also feel amazing? Also yes.) This is a particularly important question when it comes to our financial choices. As a millennial, nothing makes me feel more horrible about my life than seeing MarketWatch tweet articles that tell me that by the time I’m 35 I should’ve already saved almost twice my yearly salary.

Do I know I should be saving? Yes. Do I? No. Part of the reason why is because I don’t have a clear picture of what that decision is going to do to me 60 years down the road. A central challenge of this brief is about creating real empathy for your future self.

Enter the gig economy: Uber drivers, TaskRabbits, roadie haulers, Lyfters, and freelancers have taken up a line of work that frees them from the conventional 9–5 and all that comes with it: a desk, time clocks, and windowless buildings. However, what it costs might just be far greater for their future selves: what about retirement (not to mention health insurance, or family leave)? The gig economy creates a system that puts the onus of planning for the future on the workers themselves, which is hard enough when many gig workers are just trying to make enough to cover their expenses for today. When working yourself to the bone is being celebrated, how do you ride the line between healthy future planning and making ends meet?


Planning your future on your own terms

A CoLab team comprised of members from several insurance and financial companies collaborated to take on “Me Now, Me Later” in a 4-day design sprint. The result: PAIV, an application that lets gig economy workers (which we affectionately call “gig economists”) to visualize their future clearly and pay into accounts automatically based on their weekly earnings using smart contracts on a blockchain.

Brainstorming sprint boards while working on PAIV during the CoLab explore sprint.

After initial brainstorming and research interviews, the team found that gig economists often will set weekly goals for themselves in either hours or dollars. They also found that gig economists prefer the comfort of knowing that there’s always a way for them to go out and make money in the moment in situations where they otherwise would be unable to do anything if they couldn’t make rent working a normal hourly job. PAIV attempts to mirror these concepts, allowing users to track their weekly goals while also giving them the comfort of knowing they will only make a retirement deposit after they’ve made ends meet for the week.

Visualizing your future self

Something unique about PAIV’s approach is that it attempts to give the user a Pinterest-board-style vision of their retirement. During app on-boarding, the user fills out a quiz outlining their ideal retirement scenario, and uses financial points for those goals to create a weekly contribution amount to their retirement fund.

As a user, the quiz defines your “future” self’s lifestyle: where you’d live, how many kids you’d have, how physically active you want to be (because health is just important as wealth when talking about retirement), how many hours a week you want to work (if you want to work), and other factors.

An updated mockup of the “future self” creation process, guiding a user to think about their ideal future lifestyle.

A flexible retirement plan

At any time these goals can be changed, but the price points for an ideal retirement are taken into account no matter the content.

An InVision prototype of PAIV showing the gig economist a verbal rundown of her current retirement goals.

An algorithm helps keep you on track for your retirement goals, letting you know how much you need to work each week in order to cover your current self and your future self. You even have the option of making withdrawals from your retirement fund — at the cost of getting a scolding from your future self!

What regular interactions with the app could look like, helping a user to stay on track with their retirement planning.

Why use blockchain for this?

At first glance, it seems a bit heavy-handed to use smart contracts on a blockchain just to move funds around when a threshold is met. However, the use of smart contracts poses a secure solution for a financial store that doesn’t rely on a centralized party like normal retirement funds. A distributed retirement fund also allows for easily storing funds in multiple accounts to protect against losses, or even to secure funds for assets in a preferred order. For example, you could prioritize saving for a home or a certain asset in a singular account before moving on to other goals.

Assuming a future in which token prices are stable, the contracts also create a flexible, trustless control mechanism for making deposits on behalf of the user when considering a retirement payment amount, frequency, or threshold could be changed at any time by changing the user’s future retirement vision. In addition, the transaction records could start to represent a form of credit: could we create trust in a community that values a ledger reflecting the willingness of someone to meet their weekly goals consistently to make sure they have savings for the future?

Tracking without engrossing, nudging without notifying

During research, the team also saw a pattern of “notification numbness” every new app that we install begins to vie for our attention in the form of push notifications. There are hundreds of financial apps out there trying to help people save money, but obviously people still have problems saving even with the are constant nudges from the rectangle in their pocket. Knowing that PAIV would fall prey to the same affliction, the team chose to create an ambient physical tracker that could be placed in the user’s home.

A prototype of the PAIV visual notifier for giving a gig economist an at a glance view of their progress towards making a retirement deposit. The meter has a three part “road” that paves itself as earnings accumulate. The smart contract only deposits money once a certain threshold has been reached.

This tracker simply shows an at-a-glance view of the user’s progress towards their weekly retirement deposit. Once the road (a “Paiv-ed” road ;) ) at the bottom of the tracker is complete, their deposit will be made; anything less, and the user can make the call on whether or not to take on another gig that week to meet their target.

A more tangible future

This application is just a prototype, but it represents a stark truth in an age where our working methods are in a constant shift. We’re moving so rapidly that new standards for health, safety, and retirement need to be designed — or else we risk leaving people behind. Now more than ever, today’s worker needs clarity on their future plans to help secure their finances in a way that isn’t working through the night.

IDEO CoLab

A collaborative network focused on accelerating the…

Jacob Waites

Written by

Interaction Design Lead at IDEO and Creative Director at Foremost. Big fan of tacos

IDEO CoLab

A collaborative network focused on accelerating the research and development of emerging technologies. ideocolab.com

Jacob Waites

Written by

Interaction Design Lead at IDEO and Creative Director at Foremost. Big fan of tacos

IDEO CoLab

A collaborative network focused on accelerating the research and development of emerging technologies. ideocolab.com

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