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Allan Pettman

Cognito Learning


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Training sector must embrace vulnerable customers


The financial services industry is under ever-increasing pressure to recognise and protect vulnerable customers and it is an area where banks, building societies and other financial institutions have made great strides in recent years. There is now an opportunity for other companies, organisations and industries to follow-suit and set an example, under the guidance of forward-looking learning and development teams.

Impact of Covid-19

There has been a raft of new guidelines from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to protect vulnerable customers in recent months, which have been accelerated by Covid-19.

In addition, recent research by the organisation discovered the number of financial services customers that could be classed as 'vulnerable' increased 15% over the first eight months of the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK, and now stands at 27.7 million. This is a significant proportion of society that cannot be ignored.

We have been working closely with companies in the financial services sector to find out how much employees understand about vulnerability. Employees using Cognito Learning’s digital learning app spend a couple of minutes a day answering questions about training, procedures and compliance, on their phones, tablets or computers, to reinforce knowledge retention and give employers a valuable insight into where they need additional support or training.

Research results

We’ve now analysed how hundreds of employees working in the financial services sector have answered questions specifically about vulnerability. The research has revealed that almost a third of employees are unaware that as many as one in four UK adults experience at least one mental health issue in a year and more than half didn’t know that 19% of working adults have a disability. Only 54% correctly answered that one in seven UK adults have literacy skills that are expected of a child aged 11 or below.

However, the data also reveals that the industry has made big improvements in recent years, with staff at all levels now acknowledging that they have a responsibility to ensure the needs of vulnerable customers are considered and 93% recognise that a vulnerable customer won’t necessarily confirm they could be at risk.

In total, 95% understand that vulnerability can be either temporary, permanent or sporadic, and 89% recognise that someone who speaks limited English is likely to be vulnerable.

When it comes to possible vulnerability triggers, 85% of employees correctly identified that unusual activity on an account, payments stopping suddenly, late payments or signs that a customer is confused, are all cause for concern.

In addition, 96% said that if they deal with a vulnerable customer who is faced with a situation that falls outside the company’s standard policies, they must escalate it to a more senior member of the team, or specialist department.

The evolving scope of vulnerability

The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in an increasing number of people becoming classed as vulnerable when it comes to how they should be treated by lenders and financial services companies. Plus, the pandemic has increased the complexity and scope of vulnerability, meaning companies are not just looking for changes in people’s financial position, but also considering their health and personal circumstances.

Key priority

This makes the guidelines surrounding vulnerability a key priority for the whole industry, which is coming under increased scrutiny and facing significant penalties for failing to provide vulnerable customers with a solution that’s specific to their situation.

As a result, we are currently working with several companies to reinforce employee training around vulnerability, to ensure their teams have the best chance possible of identifying and correctly advising customers that require additional help and support.

Our research reveals that although most employees have a good understanding of vulnerability, fundamentally there is room for improvement, and especially because many employees are significantly underestimating the numbers of people affected.

What about other industries?

Whilst it is clear why the financial services sector has a responsibility to recognise and support vulnerable customers, what about other industries? If you asked people in your organisation about the statistics above, what answers would you hear?

Surely all consumer facing companies need to be able to recognise when a person could be at risk. In the current climate, with the pandemic still looming large, it is more important than ever that firms treat vulnerable customers properly and fairly.

In most cases, it is not overly difficult to put systems, policies and software in place to assist vulnerable customers and educate staff about the potential warning signs.

There are also ways of effectively supporting vulnerable customers regardless of whether it is an in-person interaction, over the phone or online.

There is no doubt that companies operating within the learning and development space have a vital role to play in this to further support their clients. For example, requests from some of Cognito Learning’s customers have driven the introduction of survey and broadcast features to allow communication and well-being surveys to be system assessed to highlight vulnerability.

Forward thinking learning and development teams, as well as businesses, that have the energy and determination to embrace and demonstrate this approach, can place the fair treatment of customers at the centre of their corporate culture, which ultimately could even save lives.

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