Financial Wellbeing Scales

A free tool to help organisations reliably measure an individual’s financial wellbeing.

Defining and measuring financial wellbeing

Every day, thousands of financial professionals, including counsellors, educators and planners help consumers navigate financial challenges and opportunities using a range of programs to improve their financial wellbeing.

Until now financial wellbeing has not had a standard definition or form of measurement. It is difficult to accurately and consistently observe something that is not directly observable. To give practitioners and researchers a consistent, reliable, global way to measure individual financial wellbeing, The Melbourne Institute has partnered with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia to lead research into developing a consumer-driven definition and measurement.

John P. de New
John P. de New

After 25 years of continuous economic growth, COVID-19 is forcing us to deal with unprecedented financial turbulence. This is likely to have much longer-lasting effects than we can even begin to imagine. Now, more than ever, it is critical to have insights into the drivers and determinants of financial wellbeing. These scales give us an opportunity to help improve the financial situation of all Australians.

John P. de New, Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research
David C. Ribar
David C. Ribar

As excited as we were to create the scales, we are even more excited by this second stage in the collaboration in which we use the scales to investigate Australians’ financial wellbeing and to examine the characteristics that are associated with high and low financial wellbeing. The insights from these analyses add to our understanding of financial wellbeing.

David C. Ribar, Honorary Professorial Fellow of Economics, Melbourne Institute; Professor of Economics and Faculty Director, Child and Family Policy Lab, Georgia State University

Research Reports

Developing a short form version of the Commonwealth Bank - Melbourne Institute Reported Financial Wellbeing Scale

Full report

The aim of this report is to develop a short-form version of the Reported Financial Wellbeing Scale that reduces the number of questions, yet still covers all three temporal domains of financial wellbeing in the same proportions, reduces the complexity for respondents and practitioners but maximises the discriminatory properties of the retained questions to maintain the excellent statistical properties of the scale.


Improving the Commonwealth Bank of Australia - Melbourne Institute Observed Financial Wellbeing Scale

Full report

This report describes an improved version of the Observed Financial Wellbeing Scale that is the sum of outcomes from categorical bank-record measures of customers’ payment problems, frequency of low liquid balances, net spending, ability to raise funds for an unexpected expense, and savings balances. The revised scale has twice as many outcomes than the first version, is more reliable, and differentiates finely across all levels of financial wellbeing.


Using Survey and Banking Data to Understand Australians’ Financial Wellbeing

Full report

This report provides a first-of-its-kind view into the state of financial wellbeing in Australia. It comprehensively analyses two innovative measures: the Reported Financial Wellbeing Scale of self-reported financial outcomes and the Observed Financial Wellbeing Scale of bank-record outcomes. It examines how these scales vary among Australians with different personal characteristics, household structures, economic and social resources, capabilities, financial attitudes, financial behaviours, banking relationships, and other characteristics. It finds that income, wealth, and other resources are associated with financial wellbeing, but it also finds that financial attitudes, capabilities, and behaviours have strong associations.


Using Survey and Banking Data to Measure Financial Wellbeing

Full report

This report conceptualises, develops, tests, and validates multi-item scales of the financial wellbeing using self-reported survey data from customers that are matched with their financial records. The study develops its scales using Item Response Theory models which produce two distinct, yet related, scales of financial wellbeing: a Reported Financial Wellbeing Scale that is formed from responses to 10 questions about whether people meet their financial obligations and have financial freedom, control, and security, and an Observed Financial Wellbeing Scale that is formed from five financial-record measures of customers’ financial net positions, spending, and payments.

User guides

The following guides describe the research behind the Financial Wellbeing Scales and provides detailed steps for using them, including how to score individuals’ responses and compare their scores.

  1. The Observed Financial Wellbeing Scale

    useful for developers and data scientists

    This scale uses customers’ existing banking data to show any payment issues like dishonoured repayments. It helps identify spending habits, if customers have a savings buffer and how much they could access in an emergency.

    A global, best practice scale to help determine consumers’ financial wellbeing (including details on pseudo code, feature creation, reference data, schemas and factor analysis).

  2. The Reported Financial Wellbeing Scale

    useful for NGOs, researchers, global banks and government agencies

    A 5 or 10 question survey, this is a subjective measure from customer insights, feelings and perspectives. This scale is used to assess customers’ current state of financial wellbeing, track their progress over time, and understand how other factors, including household circumstances, financial behaviours, external conditions and program interventions, affect their financial wellbeing.

    Download Financial Wellbeing Scales

Things you should know

The Financial Wellbeing Scales are the result of collaboration between the Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research at The University of Melbourne and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. Both organisations have made the specifications of the Scales available for use by others to improve understanding and measurement of financial wellbeing.

If you use or reference the Scales, we ask that you refer to them as the “Melbourne Institute Financial Wellbeing Scales” or “MI Financial Wellbeing Scales” and cite the initial report (e.g., cite Comerton-Forde et al., 2018) with each use. If you use the methodology in a different scale or modify it, we ask that you give your other / modified scale a different name. If you would like to apply to join our Financial Wellbeing Community of Practice to gain and share insights on using the Scales, to connect with a non-competing organisation that is using the Scales or to share your use of the Scales in the interest of research and education, please email Melb-Inst@unimelb.edu.au with your organisation’s name and your contact details so we can get in touch with you.

By downloading these Scales, you agree that you will only use them for your organisation’s internal, non-commercial purposes (e.g., to monitor the FWB of your customers). If you want to use the Scales to create a commercial product or service for individuals, industry clients and/or practitioners (e.g., to provide individual FWB assessments as part of a bundled service, or to create an FWB score or index to sell to the financial services industry), then please contact us to discuss licensing options.

Neither the Commonwealth Bank of Australia nor the Melbourne Institute shall be liable for any errors or omissions, or for any misinterpretation or misuse of the Financial Wellbeing Scales, including the Observed Financial Wellbeing Scale and the Reported Financial Wellbeing Scale, and the methodology. All information is provided “as is”, without any warranties (express or implied) as to completeness, accuracy or currency and does not constitute financial advice.

Global Financial Wellbeing Community of Practice

Community of Practice

Our Financial Wellbeing community of practice draws on expertise from multiple disciplines and institutions around the world

meet the community members

The Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research has been actively collaborating with Commonwealth Bank of Australia and a global, multidisciplinary team of researchers to deliver ongoing insights into the financial wellbeing of Australians and New Zealanders.

As interest and adoption in financial wellbeing research continues to grow, we look forward to expanding our community of practice to include additional industry and academic partners.

The first stage in our collaboration was to develop the scales themselves. We are proud to have developed the Melbourne Institute Reported and Observed Financial Wellbeing Scales – two innovative, first-of-their-kind measures that not only draw on self-reports of people’s financial experiences but also draw on bank-record indicators of their outcomes. We are equally proud of the careful conceptualisation and rigorous analyses that underpin the scales and establish that they work in the Australian and New Zealand context.

For more than 50 years, the Melbourne Institute has conducted ground-breaking applied and engaged research on the economic lives of Australians. During that time, MI has pioneered the development of many widely-used measures of wellbeing. We are confident the Melbourne Institute Reported and Observed Financial Wellbeing Scales will take their place alongside these other measures and be valuable tools for policymakers, financial institutions, service providers, researchers and the public for many years to come.