Mental health problems range from the worries we all experience as part of everyday life to serious long-term conditions and every year World Mental Health Day shines a spotlight on the issue to raise awareness. This year, however, Covid-19 has led to a host of issues that have increased mental health challenges, from isolation and unemployment to illness and bereavement.
At Legal & General we know that vulnerable people, whether they face mental or physical challenges, can find managing complex financial issues like insurance, pensions and equity release, daunting. We have appointed Dawn Watkins as our Group Vulnerable Customer Experience Manager to ensure that all of our teams are equipped to provide important support to vulnerable customers, with sympathy and kindness.
The Financial Conduct Authority believes that 24 million people – almost half the adult population – display the characteristics of vulnerability, including mental and physical health issues, recent life events such as bereavement or divorce, and a lack of financial understanding or resilience. Our own research has shown that one in four interactions with customers identified a customer vulnerability.
We are already working to the proposed Financial Conduct Authority guidelines on vulnerable customers and all of our call centre staff receive training on how to identify and support vulnerable people. But we want to do much more so that when people who contact us are facing difficult times, whether it’s dementia, divorce, sight loss or any of hundreds of challenges, they receive the help they need to make financial decisions that are right for them and can access a wider range of support if they need it.
Our Life Insurance team, who deal with people who have suffered bereavements, have already received training from the Samaritans. The Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) has also provided training to our Home Finance team who work with customers who want to release equity from their homes. And a charity that champions people who are hard of hearing worked alongside some of our frontline colleagues to see how we could improve the way we communicate with them.
I think one of the more prevalent issues at the moment is around people losing their jobs and struggling to manage their finances, and we are trying to support them where we can.
We also operate a referral service through which we refer people to get charity support from the Samaritans or RVS if we think this could help. In fact, research shows that more than two million over-75s live alone and around 1.9 million older people feel ignored or invisible, so we have trained colleagues to recognise vulnerable customers who may be struggling with loneliness and would benefit from a ‘safe and well’ check from the RVS.
And according to the Alzheimer’s Society 850,000 people are estimated to have dementia in the UK and this is projected to rise to two million by 2051. It is therefore critical that our employees understand how best to support customers with dementia and, when appropriate, their carers. Our Lifetime Mortgages business, which helps often older customers release equity from their homes, is now a dementia friendly business and members of our team are ‘dementia friends’.
Dawn says: “I think one of the more prevalent issues at the moment is around people losing their jobs and struggling to manage their finances, we are trying to support them where we can. Similarly, with fraud and scams, customers are isolated, they are not talking to their normal network of people, they may have seen their investments fall. It’s almost the perfect opportunity for someone to come along with a fake product or scam and say, “I can help you recover that amount of money” or “I can make your money work harder for you”. Hopefully, with our help, fewer customers could lose money to scammers.”
There is much more to be done and we want to be a sector leader in the important area of supporting vulnerable customers. Working with each of our businesses, Dawn’s task is to identify opportunities to improve and to ensure that there is a consistent level of support for vulnerable customers, however they come into contact with us. This is a reflection of our broader ‘inclusive capitalism’ strategy through which we strive to benefit the whole of society as well as customers and shareholders. We strongly believe that business and kindness should go hand-in-hand.