• International Workplace
  • 31 January 2017

Banks must ‘step up’ to address mental health challenges

Banks, energy companies and other essential service providers must change the way they operate to give customers with mental health problems equal access to good customer service, a leading mental health think tank has advised, following new research published by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute.

The report, Seeing through the fog: how mental health problems affect financial capability, fully demonstrates for the first time how financial capability – people’s ability to manage everyday financial tasks like paying bills or budgeting – is affected by periods of poor mental health, putting these consumers at serious disadvantage and causing untold harm. A rigorous survey of peer-reviewed academic literature shows that:

  • People with depression, OCD or PTSD are likely to struggle with short-term memory. This can make it much harder to remember PIN numbers or the details of a conversation with the bank.
  • People experiencing bipolar disorder or ADHD often struggle to resist impulses, and may go on dramatic spending sprees, sometimes funded by credit cards and overdrafts.  
  • People with borderline personality disorder or psychosis can find it very difficult to compare options and might struggle to work out which financial products are right for them.
  • Depression, substance dependence, borderline personality disorder and psychosis can all make it more difficult for people to plan ahead, meaning customers may not understand the implications of financial decisions like taking out a loan.
  • Serious anxiety can cause difficulty making telephone calls or opening post, making it harder to deal with financial problems and to keep track of bills.

From textphone to wheelchair accessible branches, the think tank says it’s now widely accepted that adaptations are needed to support people with physical disabilities to use financial services. But adaptations to support those with mental health problems are rare, even though consumers with these health conditions are three times more likely than those without to be in financial distress.

Simple changes like introducing voice recognition to access accounts, offering a written record of telephone conversations or allowing customers to speak to a company on web chat or by email could make all the difference between managing well and ending up in serious debt as a result of missed payments and bank charges.

Director of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, Polly Mackenzie, said:

“For too long, it’s been assumed that when people with mental health problems get behind on bills, or struggle to stick to their budget, it’s because they’re lazy or incompetent. Our research proves beyond doubt that’s just not true.

“It’s time for the financial services industry to adapt its services to help support people when they’re unwell – just as they do to help people with physical disabilities who struggle to access a branch or engage on the phone.

“One in four of us will experience a mental health condition in any year, so this is not a niche problem: it should be core business.”