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Consumer and business access to financial services is undeniably crucial for everyday life, and the ability to make and receive payments is arguably the most fundamental of such activities. In recent months, like many parts of everyday life, Covid-19 has changed the financial services landscape with digital payment methods becoming more ubiquitous. But what does this mean for those who cannot (or choose not to) access money in this way, and what has the industry been doing to help?
For those who are not shielding, and who are digitally enabled, the changes in how they make payments may not have been particularly noticeable. The most well-known example will have been the many businesses that have encouraged customers to choose methods of payment that minimise contact time between customer and staff. Use of contactless cards in stores has therefore become more common - helped by the recent raising of the spending limit for contactless card payments from £30 to £45 For those who are self-isolating, the changes may have had more of an impact with users increasingly digitalising their transactions by turning to online shopping and banking services.
However, for the population of self-isolating individuals without digital access, skills or confidence, the challenges to continued access to financial services are greater. If you do not have internet access, how can you place an online order? You may have a volunteer, or a friend or neighbour helping to bring you groceries and other essentials but if you do not use mobile or online banking, and usually make withdrawals from an ATM to pay for goods, how can you pay for these goods when self-isolation has limited your ability to access cash?
At its core, the time-critical question for the payments and personal banking community to answer over the past two months has been this: how can self-isolating, non-digitally enabled people continue to make payments safely, including to volunteers who are purchasing items on their behalf?
UK Finance has worked closely with volunteer organisations and other bodies coordinating the unprecedented volunteer response to Covid-19 to provide advice and guidance on the available payment options. This action has included providing feedback and fraud advice on proposals for Card-Not-Present solutions, advising on existing market solutions (such as prepaid cards), and supporting the volunteer coordinators to reach out both to payment service providers (PSPs), firms and retailers to gain support and insight. UK Finance members have also been closely involved in these conversations and have responded by highlighting products and programmes already developed for this cohort, or by launching new products to meet specific needs for this community.
Such products include ?Carer/Companion Cards?. These are linked but separate debit cards that isolating individuals can provide others with to use on their behalf, safely and securely. For those who prefer to use cash, some firms have repurposed previous foreign currency home delivery services to provide sterling direct to people's homes. Schemes that allow for quick cheque encashment or for secondary withdrawal of cash have also been rolled out for customers (including via the Post Office), and new emergency third-party branch encashment processes have been developed to enable known individuals to withdraw cash for a vulnerable customer.
UK Finance has also facilitated work to ensure alternative payment options can be undertaken securely. We have worked with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to establish that secondary card users comply with existing anti-money laundering rules. Safety and anti-fraud measures have continued to be front and centre of the industry's work on this topic.
From a UK Finance perspective, this workstream has culminated in the publication of COVID-19: Making Payments Safely in Lockdown. This guidance provides a jargon-free explanation of all the options available to people to support them to continue to make payments. We have also produced an interactive digital tool to help individuals and firms to understand which option may be most appropriate for their circumstances and choices.
The UK Finance Payments team is committed to supporting the population of the United Kingdom to make payments efficiently, safely and without facing undue barriers. Like all sectors, Covid-19 has brought challenges and highlighted new areas where work must be undertaken. Covid-19 has catalysed new developments and changed consumer behaviour. How payments trends evolve post-lockdown, however, remains to be seen.
Cicely Dudley, Manager, EU Personal Finance Policy, UK Finance