Brain ageing – understanding the implications for financial services

Dr Daniel Marson, Dr Debra Whitman and Steven Cooper at the Global Agenda Council on Ageing Symposium 2016
Dr Daniel Marson, Dr Debra Whitman and Steven Cooper at the Global Agenda Council on Ageing Symposium 2016

On 3 February Age UK hosted a symposium in London for the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Ageing, on the impact of ageing and cognitive impairment on the financial services industry. Jane Vass, Head of Public Policy at Age UK reflects on the event.

In Japan, over 4 million people are living with dementia – the equivalent to the population of Ireland, while in the UK people aged 60+ make up a quarter of Barclays Bank’s active customers. These statistics, highlighted by Professor Nakatani of Keio University and Steven Cooper of Barclays Bank, explain why the Global Agenda Council on Ageing has launched a series of events to address the links between brain health and managing our money.

At Age UK, our aim in hosting the event was to bring together leading figures in ageing research and the financial services industry to find opportunities for change. And there were several. We will be publishing a report of the event in due course, but in the meantime here are my personal highlights.

The science matters

The first thing I drew from the event was the need to frame this issue in the context of brain ageing in general, not just dementia. Most people, even in late old age, do not get dementia – but our thinking skills do change. As we heard from Professor Ian Deary of the Disconnected Mind project, there is a wide range of personal variation and changes also vary with the type of skill (episodic memory, processing speed, vocabulary and so on).

Working across disciplines can bring fresh ideas

At the event, academics mingled with actuaries, bankers with doctors, and NGOs with the private sector. For me personally – with a background in financial services policy – it was tremendously stimulating. We need to carry on these conversations and learn from other disciplines.

Performance arises from the accumulation of marginal gains’

Another quotation from Professor Deary – but one that was echoed time and again in our discussions throughout the day. It is not just the big picture that matters, but also the small incremental gains from improving the details. Just one example: a room full of experts quivered with recognition when a speaker described the frustrations of completing a badly-designed form.

Challenging the myths can drive innovation

It is not universally true, for example, that ‘wealth accumulates with age’. Ninie Wang Yan, founder of Pinetree Care Group from Beijing pointed out that in China, with its recent economic growth, it is younger family members that are likely to be wealthier.  As a result, China is having to act quickly to find innovative solutions for a better later life.

Focus on resilience

As the Chair of the Global Agenda Council, Derek Yach, said in wrapping up the event, these are tough issues with no quick fix. We need to take a much more nuanced approach that concentrates on healthy brain ageing and financial resilience throughout the lifecourse. Ageing is a journey that we are all undertaking, whoever we are and wherever we live. Every part of society – including financial services – needs to sit up and take notice.

Find out more about the event, including presentations, post-event information and the symposium report at

Author: janevass

Programme Manager, Private Sector Policy at Age UK

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