Catherine Rutter, Group Customer Vulnerability Director, looks at the importance of ensuring customers in vulnerable circumstances are supported in the best ways that suit their needs.
According to the Financial Conduct Authority definition, “A vulnerable customer is someone who, due to their personal circumstance, is especially susceptible to detriment, particularly when a firm is not acting with appropriate levels of care.”
I think it’s really important to recognise that anyone can become vulnerable at any time, something that was made very clear during the pandemic which shone a light on vulnerable circumstances.
For instance, we’ve seen an increase in people accessing online domestic abuse and mental health support, and sadly many more people have suffered a bereavement. For some, it’s also brought to light vulnerabilities related to finances, with more people losing their jobs or seeing their income reduced. Supporting customers in vulnerable circumstances was important before the pandemic hit, and it will continue to be a priority as we all transition to life after it.
In October 2020, 53% of UK adults had characteristics of vulnerability, up from 46% in February 2020
FCA Financial Lives Survey 2020
As a financial services provider, we understand the role we play
The term “vulnerability” encapsulates the various circumstances our customers can face, and risks of financial harm that we work to mitigate for them. However,it’s not a word that people like to identify with or sometimes even recognise in themselves, and that’s okay. What most customers will identify with, is what support they need in order to manage their day-to-day banking. This is why we focus on understanding those needs, supporting our colleagues to have empathetic conversations which in turn makes it easier for customers to tell us what they need, and to provide them with the tools, flexibility and support to address them.
We continuously work to ensure we can incorporate vulnerability considerations into all that we do, whether it’s by designing inclusive products, communications, treatments or channels. We aim to support those already living in vulnerable circumstances, and to be ready to make things easier for anyone who falls into those situations, and where we can, help prevent them from doing so.
As a financial services provider, we recognise that vulnerability is so broad; we’re not the experts, so sometimes we need a little help from those who are.
We’re not the experts
Working closely with third party organisations is invaluable to the Group and in Group Customer Vulnerability we partner a number of different charities and other groups to really understand the challenges facing some of our customers with additional needs.
They’re working every day supporting people with vulnerabilities in areas ranging from gambling and mental health to digital exclusion. They provide invaluable feedback as we develop products and services. Would this work? What could we do better? What barriers might we have missed?
We signpost customers to them for the emotional and additional practical support that we, as Financial Services providers, can’t offer. These relationships help us get to the right solutions and work both ways, as we also help charities understand our processes and the support available to their service users.
We can demonstrate our approach using the Money and Mental Health Accessible Standards
Recognising that we’re not the experts in Mental Health, we’ve developed a strong relationship with the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute. They’ve shared invaluable insights with us into the links between Mental Health and money management, including:
- More than half of people with mental health problems face serious difficulties using the phone to carry out essential admin
- Four in 10 have severe ‘admin anxiety’ — leaving them unable to effectively use essential services
- People with mental health problems are three and a half times more likely to be in problem debt
- More than one in five (22%) people with a recent mental health problem say they have had a panic attack as a result of dealing with an essential services provider.
More than one in five (22%) people with a recent mental health problem say they have had a panic attack as a result of dealing with an essential services provider.