Polish Students and Money

A TFI Research Challenge project by Malgorzata Pawlak & Adam Szyszka
Posted on March 05, 2019

"Polish Students and Money" is one of the short-term projects supported by the Think Forward Initiative.

What do students think about non-cash payments and do they keep track of their spending? Malgorzata Pawlak and Adam Szyszka (Warsaw School of Economics) examine how Polish students think, feel and decide about money via qualitative research. They first interviewed students and mapped their emotional landscape around money. In addition the researchers also discussed multiple case studies in focus groups to generate solutions to financial problems.

Find out the results and download the full report in the link below!


The first generation of Poles born and brought up in the free-market economy is quickly reaching adulthood. Most current university students in Poland were raised by parents with socialist roots, who watch them gain financial independence. We wanted to examine the attitudes and patterns involved in their financial decision-making, diving deep into the world of non-cash payments. In our research, we registered the range of emotions students experience when trying to balance their budgets or dealing with money. In doing so, we attempted to find the answers to questions such as:

  • What do students prefer in terms of financial products?
  • Are student opinions and attitudes in line with their parents’ – and if not, how so?
  • Does an academic background matter?
  • Which new banking solutions or products might help students to control their budgets properly?
  • What would encourage them to avoid over-spending and stay focused on saving or investing?
  • What do the various “emotional landscapes” look like, determined by the emotional reactions spotted during financial situations?

These questions were addressed during 6 interviews and in 3 focus groups. The project, conducted from November 2018 till January 2019, involved university students from Katowice and Warsaw, Poland. The findings offered not only insight into the minds of young customers, but also led to a set of practical ready-to-implement solutions, interesting for financial institutions looking to boost satisfaction and financial efficiency.

Finding 1: childhood and academic experience matter when dealing with money

Not all students were willing to talk in detail about their teen years. We found that a lack of structure in pocket money management during earlier years sometimes leaked into adulthood, but sometimes such lack made students actually more reasonable about finance.

The topic of guilt came up often. We discovered that students who grew up with financial situations surrounded in a cloud of guilt, kept being burdened by guilt as a young adult: they didn’t want to spend money on commodities and didn’t think of shopping as a pleasurable activity.

Up next: anxiety, a rather natural emotion experienced and displayed by a generation of parents living in a transformation age. Their fears spread to their children, who worried about losing their jobs or felt the pressure to study hard and climb the social ladder. Growing up in a dysfunctional family, not gaining a sense of (financial) security, led to more anxiety about life as a university student. In two cases these students were so good at balancing their budgets they became financially successful.

Students from economic universities proved to know more than their humanistic colleagues. They were also more motivated to focus on the financial side of life, and more efficient at managing their budget, e.g. by control spending, saving and investing in the future. It must be said, however, that the topic of investment was a blur for most students. They said they didn’t have enough money nor knowledge to invest; only the economic students were willing to learn more about investing.

Finding 2: non-cash is the preferred form of payment

The students taking part in our research project perceived non-cash payments as intuitive and practical. Whereas small sums of money may be controlled more easily when paying with cash, the general conclusion is that banking apps and/or online banking (e-banking) makes spending more manageable. According to the students we examined, non-cash means comfort. It’s hip – and efficient – to track financial changes online, and enjoy innovations like automatic transfers to savings accounts, budget analyses or reminders.

As for the disadvantages of non-cash as mentioned by respondents: being scammed and lack of privacy. And they experienced less of the ‘mental’ pain sometimes connected to large purchases: “It doesn’t hurt as much to pay with card.”

Finding 3: innovative solutions for students (interesting for financial institutions)

After careful analysis of the individual interviews and the data obtained within the focus groups, we came up with a list of practical solutions related to over-spending and boosting savings. The solutions that have not been implemented yet (at all or partially) include:

  • Measuring the progress: how much is left till achieving the goal [%];
  • Reminding about pre-set financial goals while shopping (e.g. by text message);
  • Financial awards for saving (e.g. lower fee for debit card);
  • Non-financial awards for saving (e.g. gala dinners for the winners);
  • Anonymous ranking and statistics published regularly;
  • Visualisation of a goal and check-points at the certain stage;
  • Gamification: game-like challenge related to the process of saving;
  • Banking Universe: meetings, ranking, new interface and character (avatar) gathered in one place.

Financial institutions may use these solutions to develop more efficient strategies to help young people deal with money.

Finding 4 – Investing: too early to think about it

The topic of investing was mainly perceived as blur both during individual interviews and focus groups. The students expressed the need (and in some cases also a stronger motivation) to learn more about this topic, but basically could not imagine investing in something other than a car or a flat. To most students, investing is nothing but a far-away concept in a very distant future.

We see a big opportunity here for financial institutions (trial options, videos, consultations) to address quite a few of these issues. Why should finance be scary? It’s time to turn it into something positive and innovative instead.