At the start of February, a Citigroup banker lost his job. He was caught stealing sandwiches from the canteen, despite earning in excess of a £1million salary. When this was reported in the news, social media was full of damming comments and judgements; ‘ugly upbringing’ ‘lacks respect and values’ ‘kleptomaniac’. Even his wife was blamed for ‘not preparing food at home’.
I fully accept that stealing is wrong. I realise that when a significant percentage of the population is struggling to make ends meet, this man is a great target. He earns all this money and avoids paying for lunch. I accept that we all have to face the consequences of our actions.
What interested me was that in all of the articles and comments I read, not one person raised the question “Why?” What prompted this action? Was he just an opportunist who thought he could get away with it, or is there another reason behind these actions?
With an interest in vulnerable customers, I can not help but wonder what prompted this action. Could it be that living up to the image of a wealthy city banker meant that there was no money left in the bank?
UK Financial Vulnerability
Living beyond your means is a major problem in the UK, where the latest figures state that the nation owes billions in unpaid credit cards. According to the Money Charity*, the average household credit debt was £7,863 in 2018.
Those potentially unmanageable debts are not exclusive to families on low incomes or those living in a specific geographical area. It seems that no matter what we earn, the average UK household spending exceeds income by an average of £900 per year. With the average credit card interest rate being 18.66%, any overspend can quickly spiral into unmanageable debt.
The Money Charity statistics highlight that the Citizens Advice Bureaux dealt with 2,477 debt issues a day in 2018. This is one organisation trying to find workable solutions for those who admit that they are in financial difficulty and are actively seeking help. Imagine how many more people are simply too embarrassed or fearful to address the problem.
Mental Health and Vulnerability
It could be that the banker’s finances were all in order. Maybe he was of sound mind and did lack values, or could it be that he was suffering mentally?
City banking is a notoriously pressurised career. Relentlessly fast-paced and target driven, the workforce is expected to be driven by hyper-ambition. Regularly working 100-hour weeks in a highly competitive environment means that anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts are common.
Whilst many financial organisations have recently introduced counsellors to their offices, there is still a stigma around admitting that you can not cope. When we are not sound of mind, our behaviours are often out of the realm of what we would consider normal.
I wonder whether the behaviour of this banker was a shift from his usual values and attitude? Could his actions have been a cry for help? Was it possible that he hadn’t consciously decided to steal his lunch?
Fewer Judgements, Greater Understanding
I am in no way trying to provide excuses for this individual, or any other who breaks the law. The point I am trying to make is that the public is quick to judge. We see articles like this and fire out comments and insults on social media.
As a champion of vulnerable customer service, I have met many frontline employees who are nervous about certain clients. When customers look different or their actions don’t seem normal it can be easy to judge, to avoid or to joke about them.
As a customer service representative, this is not acceptable behaviour.
Rather than judge, try to consider things from a fresh perspective. Take a little extra time with them and listen. Make an extra effort to see if you can help. Your negative assumptions will not change things, but some care and attention may make all the difference.
*The Money Charity report