Addressing the full scale of vulnerability

  • 4 May 2022
  • Blog | Professionalism and Ethics | Blog

A recent survey revealed some staggering statistics around service for customers in vulnerable circumstances. But banks are taking steps to improve support for vulnerable customers – and their own vulnerable staff. 

A recent Chartered Body Alliance (CBA) survey revealed some staggering statistics around service for customers in vulnerable circumstances, as well as just how many people working in finance consider themselves to be financially vulnerable.  

Over the past year, 61% of respondents said they had either directly or indirectly supported a customer with vulnerable circumstances, while three-quarters had discussed the issues facing such customers within their teams. 

Among the other findings was the figure that more than one in three (33%) respondents working in financial services had considered themselves to be vulnerable within the past 12 months. This shows a need to a reconsider the circumstances around what society considers to be financially vulnerable. 

Not an ‘add-on’ 

“If we think we are going to go through our whole lives avoiding a time when we fit the definition of ‘vulnerable’, we are kidding ourselves,” says Sian Fisher, CEO of the Chartered Insurance Institute. 

“Financial circumstances, ill health, disability and life can all put us through a period in our lives when we are vulnerable. This research underlines how important it is for us all to have an inclusive approach to all customers, and not treat vulnerability as an ‘add-on’ that only applies to a minority.” 

A culture of fairness 

CBA’s survey did, however, reveal promising figures around how FS organisations are moving to improve support for vulnerable customers. 

Almost 80% of respondents said that their employer had implemented or attempted to implement a work environment that embeds fair treatment of vulnerable customers, compared with only 10% that hadn’t.  

“Our report shows that the majority of professionals are seriously addressing their duties and responsibilities in this area, as outlined in the FCA Guidance,” says Simon Culhane, CEO at the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment.  

“But there is more to be done, as we can see from the examples cited as unacceptable, bad practices towards customers. Lack of empathy, overuse of automation and poor communication are themes we must address. We acknowledge the gaps in knowledge, skills and behaviour that this survey has highlighted.” 

One of the ways such issues are being addressed is through a planned Chartered Body Alliance toolkit and a series of events for member firms for 2022, to open up the discussion and explore potential solutions. 

Money and mental health 

How banks can better support vulnerable customers has moved up the boardroom agenda in recent years, leading to a number of cross-industry partnerships and programmes that are galvanising change. 

Lloyds Banking Group, Halifax and Bank of Scotland are among those now accredited by the Mental Health Accessible programme, which reviews how accessible banks’ services are for customers with mental health problems. 

Some of the steps taken by Lloyds to help ensure services are more accessible and supportive for vulnerable customers include training staff to help direct customers requiring additional support to external organisations that can help with financial and mental health problems; giving customers a range of ways and greater flexibility around managing their accounts; and offering customers a Trusted Person Card, which allows a third-party to withdraw cash and make purchases on the customer’s behalf in a secure way. 

Partnering up  

NatWest, meanwhile, has worked with a number of external organisations to enhance services for vulnerable customers, including SafeLives, GamCare, Citizens Advice, Alzheimer Scotland, The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), BackUp and Samaritans.  

More than 15,000 colleagues are now Dementia Friends, and its accessible bank cards have been specially designed with the Alzheimer’s Society to support customers with dementia. 

However, Catherine Rutter, Group Customer Vulnerability Director at Lloyds, says there is still more work to do across the industry. She believes that empowering finance professionals to provide vulnerable customers with additional tools and information as to how they can access appropriate support remains key in supporting vulnerable customers in the long term.