Can Digital be more inclusive to help the vulnerable?

Digital banking technology is transformational and it is clear that new engagement models will help many vulnerable people get back on track

Can Digital be more inclusive to help the vulnerable?

A typical busy day in the City

A few weeks ago, early in the morning, I was heading through London on my way to The Digital Banking Club’s Live Debate – this being the inaugural one for the Collections industry (my company is the co-founder of this now well established thought leadership forum). Some really heavyweight discussion was about to be had about how Digital solutions can really help support customers in financial difficulty, such as those who want to get themselves out of arrears without the personal embarrassment of being challenged – however sympathetically – by a cold call from a contact centre agent.

Digital banking technology is transformational and game changing, and it is clear that these new engagement models will help many vulnerable people get themselves back on track.

As a so-called digital native, I had the customary kit in my bag:

Wallet, with multiple bank cards in it, at least three of which are contactless.

  • Laptop
  • iPad
  • Two phones – a Samsung and an iPhone with Apply Pay enabled
  • Apple Watch
  • Oystercard to get on the Underground and buses

 My headphones were plugged into the Samsung, and I was listening with keen interest to a fresh podcast from the latest up-and-coming Fintech superstars. It was just another busy day in London.

As you can see, I’m all in when it comes to digital and am often a nerdy early adopter of the newest form factors (the family are all addicted to the Amazon Echo, it’s doing all sorts!). This is especially true when it comes to financial services, the industry I have worked in for over 20 years. All the conferences, podcasts, blogs and social media are screaming out: we are all moving to a digital, mobile first, cashless society.

Two worlds – The Haves and the Have-Nots.

About 100 metres from the door to the event, I was brought down to earth with a bump, which nearly made me drop my flat white…

My eye was caught by a gentleman waving his hands in despair. Unplugging myself from ‘the matrix’, as it were, I stopped to speak to him. He was plying his trade as a magazine street vendor for a well-known UK charity. A nice gentleman who had fallen on hard times but was rebuilding his life.

On the street where he works there is a global investment bank, some major consultancy firms, and a lot of law firms. These guys and girls start early, so the streets were buzzing.

It was 7:30AM, and our friendly vendor had been stood on his spot since 6:30AM on a chilly morning. Being on your own and homeless is a lonely place, and our friend was hoping firstly to have a conversation with someone – after all, we all need human contact. Secondly, while you’re talking to him, why not support him and his charity by buying a copy of the magazine? It’s only £2.50, like my flat white.

He’s one of thousands out there. How many of these executives had ever even stopped to speak to him? None. No-one is doing this on purpose, lives are busy and it’s all go, isn’t it?

So I did the first thing, which cost nothing – I spent 5 minutes just listening to his story.

I failed on the second point, though, and that’s why I’m writing this blog post. I had no cash, and (of course?) our friend could not take contactless payments!

In the end, I got some cash out of the ATM and bought the magazine (I imagine that many promise to do that, but then don’t). But, in general, I think it’s fair to assume that the homeless and vulnerable are not moving to the brave new cashless world – in fact they are excluded from it. And outside the circle is a cold place. What can be done to help, aside from asking everyone to make sure they have change in their pockets?

I checked in with the charity HQ to see what they are doing, it seems that they are trying but are hitting brick walls:

“The barriers we have faced are: getting a bank on board, getting the card companies on board, and getting a payment provider on board, as well as ensuring vendors have bank accounts to deposit the income into.”

 Digital could help – with storing important personal identification papers in the cloud, for KYC, to help open accounts, collecting payments via a device that (for example) could be provided on a revenue sharing model, and so on – and with the addition of contactless payments, sales would raise. It’s an impulse purchase of a couple of quid, you won’t feel it, but our friend can eat that night and pay his lodgings, feel some pride in what he does. The human contact can’t be measured, it’s priceless.

There’s a significant opportunity to help vulnerable people, who could be your future customers. Do something today for the vulnerable in your community. It’s good press for the banks, it’s inclusive, it’s the right thing to do. I bet there are many other examples you can apply this model to, with a little creative imagination.

Thanks to my friendly vendor for opening my eyes that morning. It was both humbling and inspiring to talk with you and I hope we can speak again.