Open Banking for Good – making a difference during the pandemic

By Sharon Collard and Jamie Evans

Nationwide Building Society’s Open Banking for Good (OB4G) – an initiative to use Open Banking technology to help ‘financially squeezed‘ people – ran from 2018 to early 2020. With around 4 million UK households currently struggling to manage financially, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the value of these propositions as well as presenting opportunities and challenges for the fintech Challengers in terms of their ability to grow and scale.

Open Banking for Good (OB4G) was launched by Nationwide Building Society in 2018 and ran throughout 2019 into early 2020. It brought together user experts (charity partners), solution experts (fintech Challengers) and process experts (Nationwide’s OB4G team) to solve real-life financial challenges for people who are ‘financially squeezed’.

Our newly-published evaluation of the impact of the OB4G programme shows that it largely met the expectations of the five fintech Challengers that completed it, by creating time and space for innovation though collaborative learning with user experts. As a result, all five Challengers successfully developed and tested propositions that tackle real problems which were grounded in the experience of people who are ‘financially squeezed’.

The COVID-19 pandemic took hold in March 2020, just as the OB4G programme was wrapping up. The economic and social impact of the pandemic has fallen especially heavily on OB4G’s target audience with an estimated 4 million people currently struggling to manage. While the pandemic brought home the potential value of the propositions that were developed in the OB4G programme, it also impacted the OB4G Challengers in a range of different ways:

  • Income smoothing challenge: Trezeo brought forward the development of its sickness insurance for independent workers and gave existing members complementary cover from early March to the end of June 2020. The pandemic also meant it had to delay its next funding round and put on hold its partnership with an online employment platform.
  • Income and expenditure challenge: Both Ducit.ai and OpenWrks saw increased demand for their Income & Expenditure propositions as the pandemic led to large-scale drops in earnings and people turned to creditors for forbearance and support. OpenWrks also created a payment relief solution that enabled lenders to offer an automated online channel for customers to apply for mortgage and consumer credit payment deferrals.
  • Money management & help challenge: The first national lockdown in March 2020 – when 2.5 million people were advised to stay at home or ‘shield’ – highlighted the value of Touco’s ideas for using tech to provide a safe way for individuals to give money to a helper to spend on their behalf. The pandemic also created significant challenges for Touco’s planned user testing of the new version of its app. The major changes to people’s spending patterns also had implications for how people interacted with Tully’s Money Coaching app, and in particular the spending challenges they might set.

Nationwide asked us to evaluate the programme so that they could learn and improve the current Nationwide Incubator which is focussed on addressing the challenges of living in financial difficulty. Our evaluation of the OB4G programme is also important as it helps build a new evidence base around the potential of technology and innovation to ‘move the dial’ on big social issues. This knowledge sharing has become even more important in the wake of COVID-19, which brings opportunities to use a Grounded Innovation approach to ‘build back better’ and improve the UK’s financial wellbeing.


Read our report: Open Banking for Good: Making a difference?

Gamble Aware announce new partnership with University of Bristol to explore potential role of financial services firms in reducing gambling-related harm

The University of Bristol’s Personal Finance Research Centre (PFRC) is today pleased to announce the launch of Money and Gambling: Practice, Insight, Evidence (MAGPIE), a new three-year strategic programme, in partnership with Gamble Aware, which looks at the role that financial services organisations can play in reducing gambling-related harm.

Gambling problems can destroy lives, often leaving those affected to live with severe financial and social consequences. Indeed, around seven in ten people seeking help for gambling problems report that they are in debt, with a third of these owing £10,000 or more. Between 2007 and 2014 there were an average of 500 bankruptcies per year known to be linked to gambling – the true figure, however, may be much higher because people may not disclose that their bankruptcy is related to gambling.[1]

While many people do enjoy gambling safely, the number of people who are ‘problem gamblers’ or who suffer negative consequences as a result of their gambling is far from insignificant. It is estimated that in 2016 nearly a million adults in Britain experienced sizeable negative consequences as a result of their gambling, with around 360,000 adults classified as ‘problem gamblers’ (Gambling Commission, 2019).

Betting on the banks?

Money and gambling are clearly intricately linked, with ‘gambling more than you can afford’ one of the key indicators of a gambling problem. As such, it makes sense that organisations that help us look after our money – the world of ‘financial services’ – might also be able to take actions to help those at-risk of gambling-related harm.

Such firms are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), which in recent years has upped its focus on the way that companies treat customers in vulnerable situations – including those living with gambling problems. As a result, firms are paying increased attention to the way that they identify and support such customers.

Indeed, in 2016, PFRC conducted research with over 1,500 frontline debt collection staff working in a wide range of financial services firms, including high-street banks, lenders and debt collection agencies. This research focused on staff members’ experiences of working with customers in vulnerable situations, including those with mental health problems, suicidal thoughts and addictions, and highlighted some of the challenges that they face – whether in identifying ‘vulnerability’, starting a conversation about it, or providing customers with adequate support or sign-posting to other sources of support.

Following that research, we held a number of ‘problem-solving workshops’ with firms, charities and those with lived experience of different vulnerable situations to develop new tools and guidance for debt collection staff when working with such customers. Many of the solutions developed have now been adopted (or, in some cases, even adapted) by firms – highlighting the fact that there is considerable appetite among those working in financial services to do what they can to help such customers.

When the funds stop, stop?

Last year saw the introduction of spending controls or ‘gambling blocks’ by several UK banks – most notably Barclays, Monzo and Starling. Once turned on by customers, these essentially prevent spending on a bank card at gambling outlets (both online or in-person).

We know that people in recovery from problem gambling already use informal workarounds to prevent themselves from spending money on gambling, such as forfeiting their card to a third party or scratching off the card security number. The new solutions from banks, however, allow customers to do this more formally – and, possibly, more successfully.

But at present there is limited evidence about the effectiveness of such spending controls, nor about the characteristics of those who use them. We also don’t know much about the unintended consequences of these spending blockers (for example, whether it leads to customers withdrawing more money as cash and gambling with that).

As such, the first six months of our programme will focus on answering these questions and building the evidence-base around what works for recovering gamblers. We will use this evidence to produce practical guidance for financial services firms around the design of spending blockers.

Get involved in the research

In order to build the evidence-base, we’ll be working closely throughout the project with financial services firms – but, more importantly, our research will place those with lived experience of problem gambling at the centre of the project, as well as those with expertise in the treatment of recovering gamblers.

So, if you’re interested in being part of the research or if you simply want to be kept updated, you can join our money and gambling network by filling out this short form.

Notes:

GambleAware is an independent charity that champions a public health approach to preventing gambling harms. The charity is a commissioner of integrated prevention, education and treatment services on a national scale, with over £40 million of grant funding under active management. In partnership with gambling treatment providers, GambleAware has spent several years methodically building structures for commissioning a coherent system of brief intervention and treatment services, with clearly defined care pathways and established referral routes to and from the NHS – a National Gambling Treatment Service. Follow GambleAware on Twitter: @GambleAware

GambleAware also runs the website BeGambleAware.org which helps 4.2 million visitors a year and signposts to a wide range of support services. Follow BeGambleAware on Twitter: @BeGambleAware

[1] See RGSB (2015) Understanding gambling-related harm and debt. Available at: https://www.rgsb.org.uk/PDF/Understanding-gambling-related-harm-and-debt-July-2015.pdf


This article was originally posted on the MAGPIE blog. Read the original article here.

Responding to citizens in debt to public services

Early intervention is key to stopping Welsh households from falling behind on their council tax or social housing rent payments, according to a new report from the Wales Centre for Public Policy. In 2018, the First Minister asked the WCPP to explore the evidence around the question ‘How might public services and their contracted partners in Wales better respond to vulnerable debtors, especially those subject to prosecution and prison?’

The report – which was co-authored by Professor Sharon Collard of PFRC, and Helen Hodges and Paul Worthington of WCPP – focuses on council tax debt and rent arrears to local authorities and social landlords as key forms of citizen debt to Welsh public services and their contracted partners.

As councils across Wales are seeking large increases in their council tax rates for the coming year, the report highlights the importance of building personalised and proactive support for vulnerable citizens, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

Key features of an effective support system would include:

  • Building trust with citizens right when they start being responsible for paying council tax or social rents
  • Identifying any problems and acting on them as early as possible
  • Easing the process of referring people in debt into partner services, and improved access to independent specialist help

But the report also warns that the ability for councils and housing associations to respond to future increases in demand, particularly in relation to any roll-out of Universal Credit, could be hampered because of increased workload pressures.

67,600 (5.2%) of households in Wales have problem debt according to the ONS, with a greater number of them in arrears for their council tax or social housing rents than in previous years.

Read more about this research

Responding to citizens in debt to public services – a rapid evidence review (PDF)

Voices from the frontline of debt advice – new research on supporting clients in vulnerable situations

by Sharon Collard and Jamie Evans

In this post, we explore key findings from our new research, which looks at the experiences of nearly 1,600 debt advisers when supporting people in vulnerable situations.

At the recent Talk Money conference, we launched new research, in partnership with the Money Advice Trust and the Money and Mental Health policy Institute, looking at debt advisers’ experiences of working with clients in a range of different situations that might make them ‘vulnerable’.

The research was based on a UK-wide survey of 1,573 debt advisers working in approximately 400 organisations and included new data from a survey of nearly 400 individuals with lived experience of mental health problems and debt.

The report, Vulnerability: the experience of advisers, brings together these new findings along with good practice guidance for supporting those in vulnerable situations.

So, what does the report actually tell us?

1. Vulnerability is an everyday occurrence for advisers

Firstly, it’s apparent that advisers across the sector are dealing with clients in very vulnerable situations on a regular basis.

Of the 87 clients that a typical full-time adviser deals with in a working month, they can expect 35 to disclose a mental health problem. A further seven clients tell them about an addiction of some sort, be it a gambling problem, alcohol problem or other substance addiction.

Each week, nearly two-thirds of advisers encounter at least one client with a serious physical illness or disability, over a third see someone with a learning disability and one-in-five help a client who is, or has been, in an abusive relationship.

Lastly, in the last 12 months, nearly three-quarters of advisers encountered at least one client who disclosed suicidal thoughts, and over half seriously believed that at least one client was at genuine risk of suicide.

2. Levels of vulnerability may have increased in recent years

As this is the first time that levels of vulnerability have been measured across the whole advice sector, it is hard to say precisely how things have changed over time.

However, there is certainly anecdotal evidence from the advisers we surveyed that they are seeing more people in more challenging situations than ever before – with the risk that financial vulnerability exacerbates other types of vulnerability and vice versa.

3. This may just be the tip of the iceberg

For the purpose of consistent measurement, we asked advisers in the survey to tell us about those clients who disclosed their situation, rather than all clients that they believed to be in such a situation. This means that our statistics could represent just the ‘tip of the iceberg’.

Indeed, in our survey of advice clients with mental health problems, we found that as many as 44% of people with mental health problems may not disclose their condition when dealing with a debt adviser.

This could equally apply to a range of other situations, such as domestic abuse and addictions. Clients will not tell advisers everything just because they are there to help them and understanding the reasons for under disclosure is important.

4. More support is needed to help advisers deal with these situations

The primary goal of debt advisers is, of course, to help people resolve their debt and money problems; however, in many cases these financial issues cannot be resolved without considering the underlying situation.

Our data shows that more could be done here. For example, at present, 44% of advisers have not received any training on supporting clients with addictions and 56% have not received training in relation to gambling.

Such training though is on the way via the Trust’s Wiseradviser programme which is launching addictions and suicide prevention courses in the New Year.

It is also apparent that many people in vulnerable situations find it challenging to go through the debt advice process. For example, of those we surveyed with mental health problems, 48% reported that making initial contact with the advice agency was difficult, while 56% encountered difficulty in finding the information advisers needed from them.

The guidance and practical tools in our report can help advisers consider some of these issues.

5. But changes to debt advice alone are not enough

Our research also looked at the wider issues that affect advisers’ ability to support those in vulnerable situations. This highlighted the fact that many advisers felt they are working in an environment which makes it difficult for them to provide the very best support for their clients.

It takes time, money and resources to provide the right support, and in many cases advisers felt these are severely constrained. Advisers also noted that there are often situations where clients could benefit from the support of external services, but these simply do not exist locally or are already over-stretched.

While these bigger issues require co-ordination and collaboration from the advice sector and beyond, we hope our research and guidance give frontline advisers and advice organisations some useful additional tools and resources to support their invaluable work with clients in vulnerable situations.


Vulnerability: the experience of debt advisers was funded by the Money Advice Service. The report is available to download here, where you can also find data tables and a resource pack with additional tools to help advisers support those in vulnerable situations.

Further information about Wiseradviser training is available here: www.wiseradviser.org.

This article was originally published as part of the Money Advice Trust’s Thoughts at the Trust blog series. Read the original article here.