Supporting vulnerable customers, and making a difference with digital

What support does a financially vulnerable customer need, and what digital processes can help? Article by Simon Cadbury.

Supporting vulnerable customers, and making a difference with digital

In financial services, once a vulnerable customer has been identified, the next step is providing the right kind of support. Thankfully, advances in technology mean we now have more options than ever in addressing these age-old issues. Let’s explore how digital customer journeys could make the difference for customers coping with vulnerability.

Small digital changes

Using a ‘light-touch’ method can be particularly helpful. One way is for financial institutions to provide online budget planners that can be accessed at the outset of the financial journey. These methods are important because they’re subtle ways to assist; small digital changes that can be implemented by businesses very easily. A simple online budget planning tool can be a gentle and less intimidating way to ensure affordability, introducing customers to the service and helping to foster good habits as they monitor their payments.

An online self-declaration tool, enabling end users to inform their financial service provider that they are indeed vulnerable (and to provide details on their circumstances), is another unobtrusive and non-confrontational method to assist those in need. For many, this will be easier than facing up to another human being.

However, for many vulnerable customers, even admitting vulnerability is a challenge. As such, businesses need to be able to engage with these customers in a very different way. Providing online self-monitoring tools is a non-invasive method, allowing a customer to control their finances in a safe and useful way.

Information is also key. Supplying personalised information such as instant account balance updates, SMS alerts and weekly account reports can help keep a customer fully informed of their financial position and quickly draw their attention to growing debt before it becomes unmanageable. Making external information available is also useful. For example, providing links to charities or online financial advice portals from within a person’s online account means they will have access to critical resources whenever they log in, giving them control over what help they want to seek.

Added support

Some discussions have even gone so far as to suggest an online ‘Power of Attorney’, enabling customers in a vulnerable position to allow a third party to have some level of control over their finances. By moving this process online, customers can authorise a friend or family member to look after their debt without having to go through the long and sometimes stressful process of setting up a guarantor – something vulnerable customers may already struggle with.

Many financial service organisations have already begun to offer increased levels of support. Monzo, for example, has made a good start. Through a combination of accessibility tools and allowing customers to choose their form of communication, this app-only bank has made it clear its future will involve significant support of the vulnerable customer. It’s also exploring a range of digital concepts, including double-checking with the account owner the following day in regards to a purchase, and opting to send a message to a friend or family member when a certain limit is exceeded. Finally, Monzo has pledged to hold workshops with people affected by mental health issues to identify how it can improve the service it offers.

For most financial institutions, however, it’s not a question of implementing revolutionary digital tools. Rather, they are addressing the challenge by putting it through a lens of vulnerability, exploring new concepts and re-jigging the old, to ensure vulnerable customers are at the heart of their business.

While the challenge of dealing with vulnerable members of our society is now being addressed – whether for those experiencing mental health issues, the elderly, or others – there’s still much to do. Providing digital tools and implementing online collection software can assist in alleviating the difficulty of not only identifying these customers, but offering them a level of support that they need from the start of their journey.

The key to addressing this issue is empathy; providing the customer with a range of options that consider their specific issues and addresses them in a constructive and healthy way.

Finally, for all consumers using digital technology, it is best practice to ensure that human assistance is available when and where they need it. We recommend prominently displaying a range of contact options, such as live chat (which can detect when there’s a lull in customer activity and offer assistance), click to call, or even the ability to initiate a web chat, where customers can speak to a trained agent eye to eye via the use of a webcam.

Find out more about ieDigital’s debt collection solution

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