Vulnerability: Call to design for outcomes, not products

Written by Tom Deen
26 Apr 2024
Financial Services

With an ever-growing focus on the consumer in Financial Services, institutions should now design for outcomes, rather than design for products with vulnerabilities considered as afterthoughts.

Vulnerable customers often face significant hurdles in navigating the financial landscape. Financial vulnerability is growing year-on-year with various macroeconomic factors such as the cost-of-living crisis, and with there being little to show signs of improvement, the FCA are putting vulnerable customers at the very top of their agenda.

In January 2024, 14.6m (28%) UK adults were not coping financially or finding it difficult to cope

FCA, Financial Lives Report 2024

The FCA made a very clear statement of intent in 2023, with the Consumer Duty Act placing a large focus on the suitability of products and treatment of consumers. We’ve also recently seen a review launched into how firms are acting to understand and respond to vulnerable customers, with results to be published by the end of 2024.

This review has started with a clear message – vulnerability should not be an afterthought. So how can firms put this into practice? We explore this below, showing why vulnerability must now be embedded in early product design, and the actions needed to implement this.

Vulnerability must be embedded in early product design

While many financial institutions make efforts to accommodate vulnerable customers through incremental adjustments post product development, a more proactive approach is imperative - one that embeds considerations for vulnerability at the very inception of product design.

Here’s why:

  1. Empathy-Driven Design: Understanding vulnerable customers' needs is paramount. By integrating sensitivity and responsiveness into product design, institutions can resonate with this customer base.
  2. Prevention of Harm: Without addressing vulnerabilities, products risk exacerbating financial exclusion. Proactive measures are crucial to mitigate harm and promote financial well-being.
  3. Enhanced User Experience: Considering vulnerabilities from the outset leads to more intuitive products. Clear language, simplified processes, and customisation benefit all consumers.
  4. Regulatory Compliance and Ethical Responsibility: Increased scrutiny necessitates compliance to mitigate reputational damage, whilst tools like Experian's Support Hub facilitate transparency, crucial for consumer trust and loyalty.
  5. Long-Term Sustainability: Proactive design fosters lasting relationships and brand reputation, ensuring resilience in a changing landscape.

Being holistic and empathetic – How to integrate vulnerability

Designing products with customer vulnerabilities at the very heart of the process requires a holistic and empathetic approach. Here’s how financial institutions can integrate vulnerability into their design process:

Collaborate With Your Customers

Actively involve vulnerable customers in the design process through workshops, focus groups and feedback sessions. An open an honest environment, filled with a wide range of diverse perspectives, will enable institutions to cement the foundations of the product with vulnerable considerations already factored in.

Embrace the opportunity for continuous improvement and realise the journey starts still in the design phase, not post-development. This environment of co-creation with your customers will ensure your products evolve as requirements adapt and change, with regular feedback loops integrated in every stage.

Creation of Teams, Toolkits & Training

To be fully invested in vulnerability design, empathy and understanding needs to flow through the business. There should be a team of individuals from various areas of the business that can act as consultants for the design team. They should be empathetic, having a deep understanding of the needs, aspirations, and pain points of vulnerable customers. By not being part of the design team, it ensures they can remain objective.

Also, look to develop a toolkit and leverage Experian’s Support Hub to ensure certain vulnerable profiles and personas can be identified. Using personas ensures the design process remains empathetic and inclusive. The Vulnerability Team can then even become a Vulnerability Academy, training various teams in the business around the fundamentals of inclusive and accessible design, such as intuitive navigation, clear language and inclusive visual design.

Customer Contact Channels

No matter how modern and digital product offerings may be, there’s still a requirement for the financial institution to offer various forms of communication channels, to ensure they can support their consumers.

This may be a ‘traditional’ call centre, a 2-way SMS system, online chat, email, social media, WhatsApp… Simply having one or two of these options is not enough to support vulnerable customers in 2024.

A deeper level of training is also required to ensure the agents in contact with customers can communicate clearly and effectively. They should also be able to spot signs of an undisclosed vulnerability, to ensure the best and most appropriate support option can be offered.

4.9 million people who used firm communications to help them make a decision in the 12 months before May 2022 found it did not help at all.

FCA, 2022

Not only a moral imperative, but a strategic advantage

Prioritising vulnerability in product design is not only a moral imperative, but also a strategic advantage for financial institutions. By embedding considerations for vulnerability from the outset, institutions can create products that are not only inclusive and accessible, but also sustainable and resilient in the face of evolving consumer needs and regulatory expectations.

It's time for financial institutions to shift from reactive fixes to proactive solutions, championing the rights and well-being of all customers, regardless of their vulnerabilities.

BFY have extensive experience in the financial sector, with a deep understanding of vulnerabilities. We have specific experience in process design, customer journey mapping, outcome testing and staff excellence training, all with customer vulnerabilities at the forefront of the design process. We also have experience in designing processes to ensure early signs of financial vulnerability are highlighted and prevented.

If you’d like to know more about how we can help, contact Tom Deen.

Tom Deen

Tom works with clients to maximise efficiencies, improve processes, and ensure strong relationships are maintained.

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