With a focus on customer service for vulnerable customers, I am well aware that the scope of vulnerability is broad. It encompasses anything that makes it difficult for customers to undertake everyday actions.
What is Economic Abuse?
Economic abuse is when someone takes control over another’s finances in order to restrict choices. They may be persuasive in convincing the victim to give up work and therefore their source of income. They may set up bank accounts and utility bills in their name, so the victim has no proof that they exist. They may place tight restrictions on spending, even if they are earning a good salary. The issue is clearly communicated in this Surviving Economic Abuse video: https://youtu.be/9zlR_oAPszg
The abuser intentionally and coercively controls access to money. Without money, the options for escaping the relationship are limited. If an individual has no form of identification, accessing joint bank accounts, cancelling direct debits or setting up as a new customer can be impossible.
Support organisations and politicians, including former Prime Minister Teresa May, are looking to change this. The Government defines economic abuse as "Behaviour that has a substantial adverse effect on another person's ability to acquire, use or maintain money - or other property, or obtain goods or services." They recognise that it is a common factor in many domestic abuse cases.
The Domestic Abuse Bill has been raised in Parliament with an honest account from one MP who spoke from personal experience. She highlighted that bruises are not the only signs of domestic abuse and laws could help improve the support available to victims.
Code of Practice of Financial Abuse
It will take time for any laws to be passed, but a voluntary Code of Practice of Financial Abuse was introduced by UK Finance last Autumn. As a result, financial organisations have developed greater awareness of the issue. Some are realising that inflexible processes are having a detrimental effect on economic abuse victims.
Changes have already been made. TSB has introduced the option of cards and pins to be sent to an address which is not the customer's registered one. Santander has exceptions to the standard policy for opening accounts. This allows abuse victims to use a letter from a professional as proof of identity when no other option is available.
To address issues of benefit payments being withheld from the intended recipient, specialists can now be accessed by anyone facing economic abuse in every JobCentre Plus. They can arrange for payment of universal credit to be paid into the main carers, or separate accounts.
Across the financial industry, customer service training is placing greater emphasis on identifying behavioural signals that can help employees recognise vulnerability. Sometimes the act of simply listening and believing victims is the first step in them gaining the support they desperately need.
Improving Customer Service for Vulnerable Customers
As organisations that serve customers, it is important to be aware that people do not always have the freedom to make their own decisions. They may be struggling to protect themselves and others, physically, emotionally and financially. This will impact on their ability to carry out what may seem like straightforward actions.
As an individual and an organisation, you can make a difference. Your actions could reinforce the negative, depreciating comments that some people hear every day. Alternatively, you could be the first person to treat that customer with respect.
Take a moment to consider your daily interactions. Could a vulnerable customer be rushed, ignored or made to feel inadequate because they have been unable to respond to what you consider a simple request? Are there ways to adapt your policies and procedures to ensure you can improve customer service?
Specific vulnerable customer service training can help your team to gain a clearer understanding of the scope of vulnerability. It can help them to identify non-verbal signals that someone needs additional support. There is the opportunity to discuss particular examples; both good practice and instances that we can learn from. It helps all to gain confidence in providing great customer service for everyone. If you would like to discuss Vulnerable Customer service training for your organisation, contact Helen Pettifer Training.
The Money Advice Service provides further information about financial abuse, including organisations who can help those in need.