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Switching the Measure: Vulnerable consumers in the current account market

Anne Pieckielon, Director of Product and Strategy, BacsPosted on 25 September 2017

Independent research publication by the Social Market Foundation, sponsored by Bacs, and expert panel discussion, delivered on 19 September 2017

On Tuesday 19 September, Bacs and the Social Market Foundation (SMF) partnered to deliver ‘Switching the measure: Vulnerable consumers in the current account market’ at a panel event held in central London.

The Bacs-sponsored SMF research assesses how the current account market is working for vulnerable consumers. It identifies three core groups who are especially challenged: the digitally excluded, repeat overdraft users and the unbanked, and recognises that customers can experience vulnerability at any point in their lives, due to market or personal changes.

The report - written by SMF economist Kathryn Petrie - also explores the idea of financial resilience, and how well consumers are able to withstand a financial shock such as being diagnosed with a terminal illness, or being made redundant.

The research concludes that an important first step for policymakers is to establish better measures for assessing whether progress is being made in delivering better outcomes for vulnerable groups, which will allow a more informed understanding of how market developments are affecting and impacting outcomes.

The panel event was chaired by Tricia Phillips, Personal Finance Editor at the Daily Mirror, with panellists Charlie Elphicke MP, Member of Parliament for Dover and Deal, Anne Boden, CEO of Starling Bank, James Daley, Managing Director at Fairer Finance, James Kirkup, Director at the Social Market Foundation and Anne Pieckielon, Director of Product and Strategy at Bacs.

 
 

Tricia Phillips - Personal Finance Editor at the Daily Mirror

Charlie Elphicke MP - Member of Parliament for Dover and Deal

James Kirkup - Director at the Social Market Foundation

Anne Pieckielon - Director of Product and Strategy at Bacs

Anne Boden - CEO of Starling Bank

James Daley - Managing Director at Fairer Finance

The event saw an impressive turnout from across the industry

The panel take questions from the audience

  • Tricia Phillips opened proceedings and, in her role as Personal Finance Editor at the Daily Mirror, encouraged a discussion focused firmly on consumer needs and challenges
  • James Kirkup provided a summary of the research and outlined its findings and recommendations. More info on the report can be found here
  • Charlie Elphicke MP welcomed the report and called for a Charter of Fairness to help the least well off. He highlighted lack of access to the internet and bank branch closures as particular issues for consumers, suggesting that the financial industry isn’t the only one which needs focus, identifying the energy market as another area in need of addressing. The MP for Dover and Deal also stressed the need to find a better way to protect consumers, especially as the population ages
  • James Daley viewed the report as a refreshing look at what vulnerability is, and argued that we could all be vulnerable at some point in our lives. He suggested banks need to be held back from full digitalisation, and that they have a social responsibility, as well as a responsibility to their shareholders. He made the point that the industry needs to look at policy solutions to stop banks turning people away if they don’t appear to be desirable customers, and that the solution to exclusion is better financial education. Money management is one of the most important skills a person can have and it should be at the top of the Government agenda
  • Anne Pieckielon stated that the Current Account Switch Service (CASS) is an operational success, and helps foster competition by providing a level playing field for all of its Participants. Bacs promotes best practice and puts the consumer at the heart of everything they do, applying what has been learnt from the Direct Debit scheme to CASS. Anne saw the SMF report as just the start, and the industry should use it to build a fairer industry
  • Anne Boden argued that Starling Bank was focused on helping people with their day-to-day banking and that the design of the bank, which includes money management tools, means it helps its customers to get the best financial deal. Starling Bank is solely digital, so not for everyone, but it is changing banking for the good of the consumer. Anne also said that she believes that banking needs more transparency, and that’s why it’s important to see new entrants entering the market, concluding that for too long there has been the wrong type of competition in the industry.

The panel then took questions from the audience, which covered whether the market itself was creating vulnerability, the need to establish what good market behaviour is and the potential Open Banking and PSD2 have to change the industry for the better. The CMA’s Alasdair Smith and Charlie Elphicke MP debated on the impact of the CMA Retail Banking Market Investigation, and whether more banks really means better competition.

For further information about the SMF panel event, please email: director@smf.co.uk.

You can find an audio recording of the panel event by clicking here.