Vulnerability: a guide for debt collection, 'The Twenty One Steps', was published in 2017 and has become a bible of best practice for our Rotherham-based Debt Managers business.
The guide offered new data, insights and recommendations for organisations working with indebted customers in vulnerable situations. This guide has helped Debt Managers to transform the way it identifies and treats vulnerable customers and now learnings and best practice have been implemented and shared with teams across the Secure Trust Bank Group. Being in debt isn't a situation that many want to find themselves in and it probably comes as no surprise that a higher proportion of those referred to as vulnerable could find themselves in financial difficulty. We explore why this is the case and why it matters?
Most consumer legislation and business operations are designed around the idea of an average customer, with assumed levels of understanding and behaviour. However, those in vulnerable circumstances could be significantly less able to represent their own interests, meaning they are more at risk of suffering harm than average customers when it comes to buying products and accessing services. Financial services offer a particular challenge because they are often complex and run over long periods of time.
There has been a big focus across the financial services industry in recent years to ensure vulnerable customers are properly supported and the 'Twenty One Steps' provides comprehensive guidance for the debt collection industry. As a business with a potentially high proportion of vulnerable customers, Debt Managers has used this new guidance to totally rethink the idea of vulnerability.
The journey started in May 2017 when Debt Managers held its first 'twenty one steps' meeting. A team made up of colleagues from across Debt Managers used the twenty one questions and case studies outlined in the guidance to interrogate the current operating model and benchmark best practice, including assumptions, processes and structures when it came to vulnerability. This has already resulted in a whole raft of improvements and changes and here are just a few:
Customer Care Champions
Their job is to act as a link between the Customer Care Team and the other teams across the business by identifying and escalating potentially vulnerable customers to the Customer Care Team and sharing and embedding best practice across the wider team.
In the know
A programme of training has been started to enable colleagues to understand and help those who are vulnerable. One of the first areas of focus was on handling suicide calls. The Samaritans ran a number of sessions that included colleagues from STB and V12. Within two months of the training Debt Managers had four calls from suicidal customers and colleagues felt much more prepared and able to help the callers.
An enhanced carers flow path has been introduced which gives guidance on when it might be appropriate to speak to a third party when a customer is unable to act for themselves. The team has also introduced much clearer signposting about other support organisations which can offer additional help with a wide range of issues related to vulnerability from mental health and old age to bereavement and illness.
Gareth Millward is Customer Correspondence and Care Manager at Debt Managers and he has been involved in the Twenty One Steps initiative from the outset. We asked him what impact it has had on the business so far:
"The Twenty One Steps has really helped us transform the way we think of vulnerability. This isn't something that happens to someone else, it can affect anyone. Vulnerability can be a consequence of mental health issues or disability but it can also result from issues like old age or ill health. After implementing some of the changes we have seen improvements in the way we identify and help vulnerable customers because we've hugely increased our understanding of vulnerability, it's causes and impacts."
More information is available on the Debt Managers website.