Promoting digital inclusion and supporting vulnerable customers in banking

Craig Wilson, Managing Director of Private Sector at Sopra Steria UK


As digitalisation accelerates, it is critical to fully consider the growing digital divide amongst users in the UK and worldwide. Financial service providers must do more to drive digital inclusion and improve access to support, alongside the push to create slick automated experiences. This will be essential in  making sure that customers aren’t left behind.

The more banks understand about their individual customers, the more they can measure how accessible and inclusive their services are. Financial service providers who take the time now to examine their customer base, and think about how they can deliver truly personalised customer journeys, will find they are well placed for the future.

Supporting customers with banking in a digital world

Although financial service providers can offer more inclusive and accessible services online, the move towards a cashless society has also given rise to a large community of vulnerable customers who now find themselves financially excluded. The transition to digital banking can’t be too quick for certain groups of people, including older generations who have been used to visiting their bank on the high street. Nearly a third of people aged 65 or over with bank accounts feel uncomfortable with online banking due to a lack of confidence and skills. It’s clear financial service providers need to properly educate and support their customers throughout the transition to digital.

It’s not just about adopting a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to the digital customer journey. For some customers, digital solutions aren’t always fit for purpose – some might struggle using digital services and may find it much easier connecting with a human face-to-face or over the phone. The lack of empathy and understanding that is missing from digital banking can be a significant barrier for individuals to overcome, particularly those in vulnerable situations who require even greater support.

Making sure it’s an inclusive experience

For those needing time to adapt to an increasingly cashless society, where the number of bank branches and ATMs are being reduced, access to traditional counter services in the interim remains critical. For example, banking hubs can provide opportunities to withdraw and deposit cash, make bill payments, carry out regular transactions, and most critically, speak with advisors face to face. They are essential to help build customer confidence and ensure a smooth transition to digital banking for all. Similarly, banks that are offering alternatives with telephone and online contact centres, and AI generated chatbots, are helping those individuals that are not quite ready for the full switch to digital to still retain a humanised touchpoint with their bank. So, a hybrid approach to customer service may be a good solution, providing customers with the opportunity to speak to a human at any time they choose throughout the digital journey.

In order to create an inclusive experience online, financial service providers must understand customer diversity. Applying blanket personas across a specific age group or demographic is no longer enough. Each customer’s needs and personal preferences must be considered in isolation, and in turn, presented with a service that meets their specific circumstances.

Digitalising banking services to offer better support to vulnerable customers

A key benefit of a digital environment is that it allows financial service providers to better identify those who are in a vulnerable situation. Through digital channels, organisations can ask individuals to report personal circumstances, such as a recent death in the family or job loss, that may put them in a difficult financial situation. For some, the ability to do this without having to sit down face to face with someone is comforting and eases the burden of self identifying.

Organisations can also use data to predict potential future risk of vulnerability. As an example, transactional data from Open Banking can provide insight into a customer’s spending patterns and warn them against late payments or expensive overdrafts. At an aggregated view, data could also help banks to identify their lower-income customers, and provide them with the correct support and advice.

Once banks have a deeper understanding of the individual characteristics surrounding their customers’ personal situations, they can adapt their products and services to provide a suitable, fair and good outcome for each customer.

An easier and quicker access to banking services with digitalisation

In addition to helping financial service providers better understand their customers’ needs, digital banking is redefining the way individuals interact with their finances and has undoubtedly improved people’s financial education and awareness. The unparalleled convenience and rapid access to banking services, whether through web-based platforms or mobile apps, has meant that customers can effortlessly check their account balances, transfer funds, pay bills, and even deposit checks, without having to go to a physical bank.

In turn, this has meant that with the immediacy of digital banking has come a greater awareness of how and what individuals are spending, allowing them to budget better and get insight into their typical spending habits. Not to mention, digital banking has solved a significant problem for customers with busy lives and demanding schedules. The 24/7 nature of digital banking has meant that individuals no longer need to wait in line or adhere to specific opening hours, they can do everything they need from the comfort of their own home. This level of accessibility empowers people to manage their finances with a few taps or clicks, saving both time and effort, as well as encouraging more financially savvy decision making.


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