Written by:
Dr Iris Kapelouzou, Manager, Financial Inclusion & Capability, UK Finance

I head off for a sunny August day of training outside London – an unusual break from the office  – to spend time out in bank branches. The aim is to learn and appreciate the reality of dealing with vulnerable customers on a day to day basis and to see what ‘support’ looks like in real time and why things are not always so easy to implement, despite how simple they might appear on paper.

Coincidentally, it is the day that the CMA service quality metrics are going live, and branches are now displaying how their quality of service compares to that of their competitors.

I meet my  excellent hosts who take me through their journey towards improving outcomes for vulnerable customers.

We started from a blank page in 2014/2015, right around the time that the FCA was publishing its paper on Vulnerable Customers. Our small team sat down and mapped out a very simple framework, to help us work through what had to be done to increase understanding among colleagues, develop solutions and provide the right governance internally.

The minute we rolled out our first bank wide vulnerability training module, a flux of queries from across the business started flooding our inbox and phones, relating to how we could better respond to customers in very vulnerable situations.

We learnt more about vulnerability while trying to help our frontline colleagues support our customers on the ground.

But the sheer volume of cases in need of more specialised knowledge and support was outgrowing our team, so with the knowledge gained we set up a Specialist Area for this kind of support. This team is now well trained  in real life challenges.

We now provide support across the business. Our specially trained team can help colleagues find the right solutions and provide tailored support to customers who need such help due to their circumstances.

We are also constantly looking for ways to engage with colleagues, increase awareness of vulnerabilities that customers can face and how these affect their ability to manage finances or access banking services.

We are also due to roll out a different style of training, to make the message clearer and more effective.

I visit two branches and speak to practically every colleague in post – from the branch manager, to the cashier, to private bankers. I hear one colleague, who showed so much passion for helping customers say:

I don’t follow a standard process when talking to those who may be more vulnerable, I just speak to them normally, use my own life experiences , show understanding and help them by doing the right thing

I hear each and every one of them speak the language that I’ve been reading and writing on paper for the last couple of years:

  • anyone can be vulnerable
  • we talk to every customer
  • we try to help people to bank on their own terms
  • it is all about giving customers a choice; we need to understand individuals’ needs

The closer I get to people working on the floor, the further removed from academic writing reality becomes:

  • we have many vulnerable customers in our branch
  • if something doesn’t look right, we take the customer aside in a private area to discuss
  • a lady had been in three days in a row and seemed confused…we look at those things…we asked her to take a seat
  • a gentleman was showing signs of early onset of Alzheimer’s; we spoke with his daughter…we now have her phone number in case we need to speak with her…. he is now only allowed £10 and every time he comes in, he only takes out £10
  • Simon comes in everyday with his carer, he puts in his PIN and takes out £5; he does not have full mental capacity, but we know him and his carer and take our time with him so that he feels in control

I see all the hard work that has been undertaken to translate principles on a page into action. Equally I start to get a sense of the challenges involved in communicating these issues across thousands of colleagues and hundreds of branches.

And just then I see Simon at the counter and realise just how important this is and the difference it can make.

It’s a wholly rewarding experience to witness how things have changed and are continuing to evolve, and how a meeting in an office, and a page of principles, can really make a difference to real people in some of the most vulnerable of circumstances.

From today Personal Current Account providers will be voluntarily publishing service information for people experiencing vulnerable circumstances.


Related Learning 

Vulnerability Academy30 November 2018 to May 2019

Many firms recognise the need to improve their understanding of the issues their colleagues face to ensure customers are treated fairly and appropriately. The Vulnerability Academy is for people who want to gain the skills to address the most challenging scenarios and meet regulatory requirements. At its core, the Academy is a learning environment where senior managers follow a programme that includes five one-day workshops, supplemented by webinars, podcasts, e-learning, reading lists and downloadable resources.

My day out in branches – a study on vulnerable customers and firm culture