Life can make us feel vulnerable

Elderly woman on her own

I was standing in the doorway of a closed shop the other day, waiting for my wife to come out of Sainsbury’s.  Two doors along from me was a bank and I saw at first hand an example of how not to treat a vulnerable bank customer.

This is very much on my mind a present as the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has recently updated its guidance for firms on the fair treatment of vulnerable customers.

I realised that a gentleman, probably in his fifties, was talking quite loudly not far from me but that it was difficult to understand what he was saying.  His words were English but they were sort of jumbled up with no complete phrases or sentences.  My immediate reaction was that he was drunk but after looking at him for a few moments I realised that was unlikely.

He was holding a print-out that could have been from the cash withdrawal machine on the wall and he was very annoyed.  I eventually gathered (it was impossible not to listen) that he was unhappy about money that had been taken from his account but whether by the bank or someone else I could not tell.

He was talking through the open bank door to one of the bank staff but seemed reluctant to go in.  I did hear something to the effect that he did not like to be with other people.  At this stage I felt sure that someone would offer to take him into a room in the bank where he would be away from anyone else, especially as he was now really beginning to shout.

Instead one of the bank employees who was about a foot taller than their customer and who had a face mask on moved him away from the door into the street to talk with him.  I thought then that a shorter man or preferably a female bank employee would have seemed less threatening to him and helped calm him down.

The fairly incomprehensible shouting continued and probably wasn’t helped by three private security men in uniform who were patrolling the streets and were attracted by the commotion. In the end the bank employee returned to the bank and the man walked away with his issues unresolved as far as I could tell.

Throughout I could sense the man’s frustration that he could not get the bank to understand his problem and his point of view.

The FCA has made the quite shocking point that there are millions of vulnerable people in the UK. Indeed, they have stated that as many as half of consumers could potentially be vulnerable.

What makes us vulnerable?  It could be our mental or physical health; our lack of financial resilience; a life event such as bereavement, divorce or unemployment; or our lack of financial knowledge.  It might be a permanent state or we may be vulnerable temporarily.

I hope that the bank customer will find a friend to go with him to the bank next time.  If you would like to read more about the issue of vulnerability and how any of us should be treated by the world of finance when we find ourselves in that place please visit vulnerable people

Arthur Childs

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