Supporting vulnerable customers: key learnings for banks and insurers

Jake Canaan, VP Global Sales Engineering, Quantum Metric


In today’s difficult economic climate, vulnerable circumstances can affect anyone, whether it’s due to job loss, struggles with a higher cost of living or the development of an illness. In fact, research has found that almost one in four (23%) consumers are now considered financially vulnerable, with 56% of these consumers believing the situation will worsen over the next 12 months.

Banks and insurers have an opportunity to implement tailored solutions that make vulnerable customers feel truly understood and ensure their specific requirements are well-met. This includes taking proactive measures to enhance messaging and usability across all customer touchpoints, demonstrating a genuine commitment to serving all customers with the utmost care and consideration.


Accommodating every customer’s needs

Providing the right support for vulnerable customers starts by considering the different ways in which they may require assistance. For example, they may lack familiarity with digital technology and encounter difficulty navigating websites and apps, which could cause them to make payment mistakes. They may also make impulsive or poor financial decisions such as falling victim to scams or accidently purchasing an inappropriate product. Given that mobile now drives most traffic across the industry and is the platform preferred by consumers, banks and insurers should develop apps with vulnerable customers in mind – making them simple, intuitive, easily accessible, and educational.

Debt is another key example of vulnerability. With the cost-of-living crisis continuing to bite, many are finding it increasingly hard to pay off what they owe. In fact, a recent Quantum Metric report found that the biggest financial challenge for 60% of people is understanding how to afford bills or pay off debt. What’s more, one in four people want support getting out of debt. Not only do banks and insurers need to actively offer solutions for these customers, but they should also exercise extra caution to ensure fair treatment from their situation.

The power of open banking and APIs can be harnessed to integrate debt advice and mental health resources into websites and apps, in turn building a picture of a customer’s financial health and enabling tailored solutions. Additional assistance could include amending payment plans to alleviate pressure or offering discreet ways for customers to disclose debts without the potential embarrassment of in-branch communications. Private, self-service support options eliminate the need for uncomfortable discussions, ensuring a more sensitive experience.

When a vulnerable individual faces a challenging situation, the impact can be significantly worsened by receiving sub-par support from their bank. Therefore, there needs to be a clear and effective customer support system in place to ensure people receive the assistance and care they require during such critical times. By prioritising a robust support structure, banks can alleviate the difficulties faced by vulnerable customers and provide them with the necessary guidance and understanding to navigate their circumstances with confidence and ease.

However, this can’t happen if staff are not equipped with the necessary skills to comprehend the nature and extent of vulnerability, as well as its implications. By training employees to sensitively recognise and respond to signs of vulnerability, financial institutions can better empathise with the needs of their customer base, identify vulnerable customers, and respond effectively across various areas such as product design, customer service, and communications.


Improving the user experience

Once all employees are fully qualified to understand vulnerable customers’ requirements, banks and insurers can begin taking practical measures like enhancing user experience (UX) to industry-leading standards by removing red tape and ensuring effective messaging. To help identify the parts of the UX that require upgrading to suit vulnerable customer’s needs, financial institutions should leverage data-driven journey analytics. This data can provide insights into customers’ activities and frustrations, meaning friction points and usability issues can be pinpointed and rectified much quicker.

Banks and insurers should also consider how emerging technologies, such as AI, could help improve UX for vulnerable customers. Recent Quantum Metric research found that 55% of people are comfortable sharing financial information with a chatbot. Vulnerable customers are more likely to require assistance more often when navigating digital banking features. Relying on human customer service to be delivered over the phone or in-person means that during non-working hours, these customers may feel like they have nowhere to turn. By leveraging AI technology, such as 24-hour automated chatbots, vulnerable customers can still receive support no matter the time of day.


Trust built through transparency

It’s important that financial institutions are completely transparent with all their customers, but especially those who may need additional assistance understanding certain products or services. By implementing processes that help ensure customers are fully aware of any terms and conditions before signing up, financial institutions can protect customers and ensure they aren’t caught out by requirements. By pre-emptively addressing intricacies such as associated fees, these measures proactively mitigate the emergence of complications further along the road, safeguarding customers’ financial interests.

This can also benefit banks and insurers too – not only does transparency build customer trust, but it also means there is an auditable trail confirming that a customer has agreed to any risks, should evidence of compliance ever need to be provided.

The support offered to vulnerable customers can vary depending on the financial institution and the individual needs they cater to. However, both banks and insurers hold a critical responsibility in providing impactful support to these customers through various strategies. These encompass crafting specialised products and services that cater to specific requirements, fostering transparent communication to ensure easy comprehension of information, offering multiple channels for accessible customer interaction and training staff to sensitively identify and respond to signs of vulnerability.

The key to effectively aiding vulnerable customers lies in engaging them on their own terms, underscored by the critical significance of attaining a thorough understanding of their unique circumstances. By doing this, financial institutions can ensure vulnerable customers receive the care and support they truly deserve.



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