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Interview: Sibstar, the fintech app for dementia sufferers

Creator of app and debit card designed to support people living with dementia tells Computer Weekly how the idea developed

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When Jayne Sibley’s mother began losing track of her finances due to dementia, she set her mind to finding a way for her mother to retain her independence while protecting her money.

With her father in a nursing home, her mother began to really struggle to understand everyday finances. Sibley said her mother was falling victim to scams, taking out multiple cash withdrawals and giving it to homeless people, and was overspending on food. “She was capable in so many ways, but her ability to understand money was diminishing.”

After going down more traditional avenues, Sibley and her husband ended up creating a fintech, known as Sibstar. “We tried loads of different things, including high-street banks and other pre-paid debit cards, but none really worked,” she said. “We ended up having to take away mum’s access to money, which was a really tough decision.”

This caused problems because routine is important for people suffering from dementia. “By taking away financial independence, you essentially take away independence,” said Sibley. “She could no longer leave the house to, for example, buy a newspaper. What we spend our money on is part of who we are, our identity.

“This was really sad and we thought there had to be another way to enable my mum to live independently as long as possible while knowing her money is safe and secure.”

Personalised services

Fintech is a broad sector that offers a wide range of financial services to people and businesses with different needs. The ability to create apps that cater to a specific group’s needs is vital today as people seek personalised services.

This goes beyond targeting certain consumers with certain demands and is not always about maximising business opportunities, with fintech being used to support people with specific needs when it comes to financial services. Sibstar is an example.

Sibley said: “Sibstar came from my own lived experience caring for my parents and it was really through my mum’s condition that the idea came.”

She was prepared for her mother’s struggles after gaining experience from her dad’s condition. “We knew that protecting her finances was going to be really important,” she said.

That was when Sibley came up with the idea for Sibstar, a debit card designed for people affected by dementia. It is preloaded with a certain amount of money with an app that sits on the family carer’s mobile phone, enabling them to decide how and where that money can be spent.

Limits on spending and cash withdrawals can be set, and ATM withdrawals can be switched on and off.

Changing needs

“The product is adaptable to the changing needs of people, as their needs do change as the condition progresses,” said Sibley. “Functionality can be added when the condition progresses.”

Sibley has no IT, banking or payments background, but sent her idea to the Alzheimer’s Society Accelerator Programme. “We got down to the last 10 and went and pitched to the innovation team and we were given a place,” said Sibley.

She said this “unhooked a lot of things”.

“It was the first time we had written down the idea and was the first time we had been told it was a good idea,” she added. “This was a game-changer – it went from an idea to ‘we have to do something now’. I am not ashamed to say I literally Googled: ‘How do I set up a pre-paid debit card?’”

Having the backing of the UK’s largest dementia charity opened a lot of doors for Sibstar, said Sibley. “Suddenly people were taking my calls and they were interested in talking,” she said. This included Mastercard, which has supported the company.

Reaching out

Sibley then looked at other organisations doing similar things for different groups, did some research and began “reaching out” to issuers, processors and programme managers.

She was introduced to an expert who, on a pro-bono basis, worked with Sibstar for 18 months, including guiding it through the procurement of a developer. Sibstar uses software developer Pannovate for its app.

The app took about a year to develop and people are now using it. “It is great to hear from people that it is helping them,” said Sibley.

The Sibstar service has a £4.99 set-up fee, a £4.99-a-month subscription and then a 99p charge per transaction. A proportion of profits will go to causes the organisation believes in, with the Alzheimer’s Society already receiving 7.5% of its net profit.

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