Topic: Community December 11, 2019
Author: Neil Cubley

Helping vulnerable customers

Bank of Ireland Vulnerable Customer Unit4 MIN READ

An elderly man recently came into one of our branches. He was with his two children, both adults. They did most of the talking while he stayed quiet.

They told the cashier that he wanted to transfer a very large sum of money out of his account, which would have all but emptied it.

Something just didn’t seem right to our staff there.

So they contacted our Vulnerable Customer Unit who gave them advice and asked them to speak to the elderly customer, the sole accountholder, in private.

His adult children took exception to this and tried to interrupt the private meeting where it soon became clear that their elderly father was confused and did not know what the transfer was for.

The transfer was refused and other branches were alerted.

A second attempted transfer at another branch was blocked later that day.

Vulnerable Customer Unit

The Vulnerable Customer Unit supports staff dealing with vulnerable customers in situations like this.

Employing 6 specialists who each have considerable experience in retail and community banking, fraud and financial crime.

So far, they have helped out in more than 1,000 cases, which involved the following kinds of vulnerabilities:

55%    care needs (ensuring next of kin can look after their relative’s day-to-day living expenses while they are in care or unable to access the account themselves)

20%    financial abuse

10%    addiction

10%    impairment and accessibility

5%      other.

The ‘other’ category includes a wide range of situations from suicide to no fixed abode.

Sometimes all that the branch staff need is a bit of practical advice from an experienced specialist to help them to help a vulnerable customer.

Helping vulnerable customers to manage their money

Donal has a hearing impairment.

When he wanted to set up online banking he obviously couldn’t phone us because of his impairment so he called into his branch instead.

The branch got in touch with the Vulnerable Customer Unit for advice.

Prompted by them, a member of staff prepared flash cards to explain the process of registering for online banking to Donal then rang our contact centre for him and walked him through the registration, step by step.

Donal entered his PIN, securely, got his user ID and was helped to download the mobile banking app so he could more easily manage his finances.

The whole process was relatively straightforward, once the branch knew how to help Donal get what he needed.

Living longer

According to Department of Health’s ‘Health in Ireland: Key Trends 2018’*, Irish people are living longer.

Life expectancy has increased by two and a half years since 2006.

The number of people aged 65 and over is expected to almost double in the next 20 years to around 1.2 million by 2038.

But during our longer lives, we are more likely to encounter chronic illness and dementia making us more vulnerable.

And, of course, anyone can suffer bereavement, illness, job loss or other life event that affects their financial wellbeing at any age.

However, one of the issues that we all face is that as vulnerable people we can be reluctant to disclose the challenges we face.

Why people keep their vulnerabilities hidden

Deirdre is a senior fraud investigator in the Vulnerable Customer Unit and shares a case that illustrates why vulnerable people may be inclined to keep their problems hidden.

A very elderly customer in Dublin had problems with her eyesight.

When she went into the shops to buy things she was used to handing her card over to the cashier and asking them to enter her PIN for her.

In most shops, they simply wanted to help her and nothing untoward ever happened despite her sharing her PIN which we do not advise.

But, in one or two shops, the person on the till entered more than the amount she was supposed to pay.

In some cases, it was ten times the amount.

Her branch noticed these odd payments and queried them.

However, when approached, the customer did not want to report them to the police.

We do not know for certain why this was the case but Deirdre has a theory based on her experience of cases like this.

Worried about losing independence

‘She may have been afraid that this would have been seen as an excuse to get her into a home,’ says Deirdre.

‘This can be one of the biggest fears that people have as they get older and more vulnerable.’

Deirdre says that to understand it, you have to imagine things from the customer’s perspective.

‘You might start noticing a few things changing as you get older.

You have to turn the volume on the television higher. You can’t walk the shops as much. Little things.

But you still have your independence. And you value that highly.’

The last thing that some people want is to have attention drawn to situations where they cannot manage, especially if it means losing control over some aspects of their lives.

Even at the cost of having money taken from them.

Automating bills so that they are not forgotten

Some vulnerable customers, particularly the elderly (but not only them), are very concerned about forgetting to pay bills.

They may worry that their heating will be turned off or their lights will go out because they’ve simply not remembered to pay on time.

One of the practical ways that the Vulnerable Customer Unit can help these customers is by supporting branch staff to set up direct debits and standing orders to their gas and electricity providers or to a nursing home.

This way they no longer have to be anxious about remembering to pay a bill and do not have to withdraw large amounts of cash to do it.

A wide range of vulnerabilities

Members of our Vulnerable Customer Unit team been given specialised training from a wide range of advocacy organisations.

They include the HSE Safeguarding and Protection team* (when there is an immediate concern over the customer’s safety), AsIAm* which supports people with autism in Ireland, the National Council for the Blind*Ireland, the National Federation of Voluntary Service Providers*, the Rutland Centre* which helps people recover from addiction, and Sage Advocacy* which supports vulnerable adults, older people, healthcare patients.

Their insight and advice has been invaluable when working out what action to take in a range of situations.

Particularly as the range of vulnerabilities is wide and the needs of people with them are very diverse.

5 tips for avoiding financial abuse

Here are some tips that may help vulnerable customers avoid financial abuse.

  1. Set up direct debits or standing orders for regular bills such as gas, electricity.
  2. Avoid giving your bank cards and PIN to other people.
  3. Do not sign blank cheques.
  4. Keep a record of your spending – write it down so you can check it later if you need to.
  5. Check receipts and bank statements and get in touch with the shop or your bank if you notice anything unusual.

Find out more

The Banking & Payments Federation Ireland have a booklet called ‘Protecting your money now and in the future’* which gives advice on protecting yourself from financial elder abuse.

Customers concerned about financial abuse should contact their local Bank of Ireland branch.

*Clicking on this link brings you to a third party website. Bank of Ireland is not responsible for the content on third party websites.

Names and other details have been changed to protect privacy in the cases mentioned here.

Topic: Community December 11, 2019
Author: Neil Cubley

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