Make or break time for banks to support people affected by cancer

The financial impact of cancer is severe. We know that cancer’s hidden ‘price tag’ for four out of five (83%) people is on average £570 a month and for 30 per cent of people, rises to £860 a month due to loss of income.[1] Considering the range of existing financial commitments that people are likely to have, for example mortgages, credit cards and loans that were manageable pre-diagnosis, it stands to reason that the unexpected financial impact of cancer could be the shock that makes people vulnerable to financial difficulty.

That’s why it is great news that two important pieces of work have been launched this week that should significantly increase awareness of these issues and improve the support available to financial services customers affected by cancer. On Monday the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) released the findings of its groundbreaking work on consumer vulnerability and outlined the regulatory approach to dealing with the issues it raises. This is a call to action that offers the financial services industry and the voluntary sector a real opportunity to work together to cut through the oft-cited challenges of legal and regulatory compliance and address the delicate balance of consumer protection and consumer empowerment. Macmillan Cancer Support is pleased to have worked closely with the FCA to inform and support their work and we welcome the report.

Meanwhile, the British Bankers Association (BBA) has published best practice guidance for banks on how to improve the support they offer to their customers with cancer and other long-term conditions. The guidance addresses the changes to staffing, systems, products and services that banks should consider in developing effective policies to achieve this. Macmillan has worked in partnership with the BBA and the Royal College of Psychiatrists as well as consulting with The Stroke Association, to ensure that this guidance accurately reflects the financial support needs of people experiencing the financial impact of a long-term condition. It builds on Macmillan’s innovative Counting on your Support report launched in May 2013 with the backing of over 2,000 people affected by cancer, which set out nine recommendations to the banking sector for how it could improve the service it provides to customers with cancer.

Like many other consumers in potentially vulnerable circumstances, people affected by cancer aren’t ‘bad’ customers. In fact we know that many think about how they will manage the impact on their finances moments after diagnosis and try develop the best strategies they can for doing so. However, they face the multiple challenges of navigating a system that’s not designed for their circumstances, frequently with an incomplete understanding of what their future journey and financial needs could look like, at a time when they might be physically, emotionally or psychologically vulnerable. We know that early intervention with high quality information and support, such as that provided by Macmillan and other organisations, can make a huge difference to improving financial outcomes for someone with a cancer diagnosis. However, at present only 26% of people diagnosed with cancer receive any financial information or support despite 71% saying that they would like to have it. [2]

It’s clear that everyone has a part to play in enabling people with long-term conditions to take control and make good, well-informed financial decisions so that they can continue to manage their finances as ‘responsible’ customers. However, the financial services industry’s current contribution to this is not proportionate to its increasing role as a social utility that forms the backbone of how we transact our daily lives as consumers. People living with cancer who feel isolated tell us that their financial concerns play an important or critical role in this feeling. Despite the industry’s unrivalled ability to reach out and play a significant part in stopping cancer from being the loneliest place, fewer than one in three of the small number of people with cancer who approached their bank after their diagnosis (4%) received any support. This reinforces the perception that banks can’t or won’t help those who take the courageous step of disclosing the intensely personal details of their illness and that sometimes they are even penalised for doing so.

Worse still, at Macmillan we hear from people living with cancer who ‘self-exclude’ from the financial system because of negative experiences of seeking help and the feeling that financial providers have let them down when they were most vulnerable. They restrict their engagement with the financial services industry to the bare minimum required for managing day-to-day finances. These people are not only lost to the financial services industry but also, as noted in the FCA report, there is a cost to everyone: “Marginalisation in financial services can lead to marginalisation in other essential services and have a seriously detrimental effect. Society as a whole loses out, both in terms of cost and cohesion.”[3] Acting on the FCA report and implementing the BBA guidance must be part of the industry’s vital first steps towards changing this system failure.

One of the key intended outcomes of the BBA guidance is to ensure that frontline banking staff have the knowledge and skills that will better equip them to deal with customers with long-term conditions confidently and appropriately and most importantly, refer them to the right sources of specialised support. This is essential as we know that the first contact with a financial services provider can be the make or break point that determines whether or not a customer affected by cancer gets the support that they need and in turn, is able to secure the best possible financial outcomes.

The FCA paper and the BBA guidance highlight two key messages. Firstly, addressing the needs of customers with long-term conditions and other potential vulnerabilities is unquestionably the socially responsible thing to do – a key test of conscience for the industry that should be integral to the core values of financial firms. Secondly, standing by customers facing temporarily challenging circumstances and supporting them to remain financially well makes commercial sense in a range of ways including reputational benefits, customer loyalty and staff morale, as well as potential cost savings. We therefore commend the FCA and the BBA for their work and support the call to action for the financial services industry to step up and play its part in addressing issues of consumer vulnerability.

Leonora Miles, Policy Adviser –  Financial Services, Macmillan Cancer Support (lmiles@macmillan.org.uk)

[1] Macmillan’s Cancer’s Hidden Price Tag research can be found via the following link: macmillan.org.uk/Documents/GetInvolved/Campaigns/Costofcancer/Cancers-Hidden-Price-Tag-report-England.pdf

[2] Unless otherwise stated, figures and qualitative insight are based on: Experiences of Interacting with Banks when Diagnosed with Cancer, YouGov, 2013. Online focus groups and telephone interviews with 36 people from the UK with a cancer diagnosis in the last 18 months, who had a banking experience in the last 12 months. Participants were recruited from YouGov’s online panel and a database of Macmillan Support Line callers. Fieldwork was conducted in October 2013. Information and Support, YouGov 2013.Online survey of 3,007 UK adults who have or have had cancer. Fieldwork was undertaken between 5 and 27 December 2013. Survey data has been weighted to be representative of the wider cancer population (cancer prevalence) in the UK by age, gender, nation and cancer type

[3] Occasional Paper No.8: Consumer Vulnerability, Financial Conduct Authority, February 2015, p.75

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