Responding to financially vulnerable customers, during the pandemic and in the future

Ensuring staff have the right skills to deliver positive outcomes for vulnerable consumers has always been critical, but Covid-19 brings with it new challenges.

In July 2020 the FCA stressed that that 24m people in the UK displayed one or more “characteristics of vulnerability”. These include life events such as bereavements, mental and physical illness and financial difficulties – all of which could worsen as a result of the pandemic.

Financial services firms will already be dealing with more cases of people facing financial difficulties due to job losses, reduced hours, pay cuts, furlough and/or poor mental and physical health. A November 2020 report revealed that 64% of the UK population had felt anxious or worried [in the past two weeks at the time of the survey] – this was before the UK fell into another national lockdown at the end of the year. The definition of vulnerable consumers has also changed in recent years, with increasing numbers of people now falling into the category.

The FCA ramped up its vulnerable consumers' guidance during 2020, and the expectations on financial services are high. At such a crucial time, firms cannot afford to risk the reputational damage of failing to deliver on their promises.

Much more than a ‘tick box’ set of rules, treating vulnerable consumers fairly is a key part of the ‘healthy, purposeful cultures’ defined by the FCA.

Covid-19 isn’t the first time a crisis has called for an overhaul of the financial services sector. All financial services firms will remember the financial crash of 2007 and the long recovery period afterwards.

Corporate governance was in the spotlight, resulting in organisational and operational change but some have suggested further reforms are needed. At the end of last year, a group of cross-party MPs even called for high-street banks to “break up” due to “stifling competition and exploiting vulnerable consumers.”

Just as the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the number of vulnerable consumers and their needs, the impact of the pandemic has also been felt on firms themselves. Working from home can make it difficult to create positive cultures, especially if staff are not engaged, their workloads are heavy and/or they don’t have the right tools to do their job.

But, of course, many firms have embraced digital technology during this period -- including eLearning as a way to build the right competencies in their teams, even when working remotely.

Far from being a temporary fix while face-to-face learning and networking events are on hold, eLearning can engage and empower employees. Knowing how to handle complex enquiries with confidence empowers them to deliver positive outcomes for consumers. But it’s also vital that firms invest in soft skills training, so employees build resilience and empathy when speaking to the public and understand how a changing situation might affect them. Good time management skills, and an awareness of the toll handling such cases can have on their mental health, can also help them, and therefore consumers, during this critical time. Indeed, without these skills, it would be impossible to create a healthy workplace culture the FCA wants everyone to achieve,

Our digital learning and compliance solutions include diagnostics to quickly identify knowledge gaps within the workforce – drilling down to a team and individual level. Remember that understanding the latest guidance on supporting vulnerable consumers is not limited to front-line staff; it also informs policy, company culture, the development of new products and services and the firm’s strategic direction. Again, it is about supporting employees to develop their soft skills, rather than simply complying with the rules, and delivering a better service overall.

With this insight, it’s possible to assign targeted and role-specific content, with case studies, that fulfil the regulatory requirements in an easy-to-digest format, while managers gain performance metrics to identify development areas.

In a world where remote working is now the norm, and many new starters joining a firm without stepping foot in physical offices, learning is integral to maintaining service standards across a firm. It’s crucial that it doesn’t fall to the wayside, particularly with the sector facing such high demand in the year ahead.

Find out more about Access Learning Solutions for firms including a library of governance, risk and compliance courses and award-winning learning management system.

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