For bank and building society staff
If you work at a bank or building society, you may feel unsure how to support a customer who has experienced economic abuse.
This information may help you to create an environment in which the customer feels able to share information with you. It may also help you feel prepared to respond to the customer.
We recommend reading our other resources for bank and building society staff:
On this page
The Financial Conduct Authority’s guidance on the fair treatment of vulnerable customers and the UK Finance 2021 Financial Abuse Code set out the ways in which banks and building societies should respond to customers in vulnerable circumstances, which includes domestic abuse and economic control. We recommend that you familiarise yourself with this guidance, which the following information is based on.
The new Consumer Duty also sets higher standards of consumer protection across financial services. The Duty induces a consumer principle (Principle 12) to the FCA’s overarching rules and requires firms to put their consumers’ needs first. There is a particular emphasis on treatment of consumers with characteristics of vulnerability or who may be at a greater risk of harm. The Consumer Duty provides financial services firms with an opportunity to transform their response to economic abuse.
Current responses to economic abuse predominantly focus on addressing negative outcomes for victim-survivors after things have already gone wrong. However, these outcomes could be prevented from happening and the impact on survivors minimised if an understanding of economic abuse was reflected within end-to-end product and service design.
The Consumer Duty builds on the FCA’s existing guidance on fair treatment of vulnerable customers and, through Principle 12, imposes a higher standard on firms in several ways:
We have developed a briefing paper in partnership with the law firm Simmons & Simmons to help financial services firms consider economic abuse when interpreting what good outcomes (Principle 12) look like for victim-survivors.
Examples from the briefing on how firms can help victim-survivors of economic abuse:
For further guidance on the Consumer Duty, download ‘How the Consumer Duty can transform responses to economic abuse’
The guidance that exists on supporting vulnerable customers builds on the skills you already have to empathise and build rapport with customers. The information below may help you apply these skills to the needs of victim-survivors of economic abuse.
Some customers may be forthcoming with information about the abuse they are experiencing and may raise the topic with you. However, there are a number of reasons why other customers may not disclose that economic abuse is taking place. They may:
They may not even be aware of the full extent of the abuse if the abuser has hidden information from them.
The information below includes ways in which you can make it easier for a customer to talk to you about what has happened, whether or not they have named their experience as ‘economic abuse’.
A customer may be unsure of the response they will receive from the bank if they disclose the abuse they have experienced. It may help to reassure the customer that they won’t be penalised or blacklisted for seeking your support.
You could invite the customer to speak to the bank’s vulnerable customer team, if there is one. This is a specialist team that is trained in offering support to customers in difficult circumstances, including those experiencing abuse. It can help to explain what the vulnerable customer team can do to support them. Some banks can support customers to freeze or close accounts, or open a new bank account safely. Explaining the ways in which the bank can support the customer, and what their next steps may be, can make it easier for them to talk to you.
It may also help to reassure the customer that the information they share with you will be confidential.
Before a customer tells you about the abuse they have experienced, make sure it is the right time and place for the conversation. Try to create a safe environment that makes it easier for a customer to talk to you about what is happening.
Applying your active listening skills is important to create an environment in which a customer can speak openly. It will also help to ensure that you learn as much information as possible to allow you to support them in the appropriate ways.
Remember to give space and time for the customer to explain the situation.
It can be difficult for people experiencing economic abuse to share their story, let alone share them more than once. With the customer’s consent, note their story securely on their file to minimise the need for them to repeat it to other staff members or departments.
Don’t pressurise the customer into taking any actions:
The customer is the best judge of whether taking any actions to change their financial situation may lead to further harm from the abuser.
Keep the information the customer shares with you confidential:
The customer may be concerned that the information they share with you will be accessible to the abuser if they have a joint account or a joint product. Ensure that sensitive items are flagged on the customer’s profile. This will inform any colleagues who speak to the customer or the abuser in relation to joint products of the circumstances.
Speaking to the customer’s family or friends:
The customer may ask you to speak to a friend or relative on their behalf. It is important to be aware that sometimes customers may experience abuse by family members. If the customer has a family member or friend with them in person or on the phone, try to make sure that they are able to speak freely in front of this person. If you have any concerns, it is best to speak directly to the customer or suggest that you speak to them at a time when they are alone.
Alert the police if necessary:
If you have reason to believe that a customer may be in immediate danger, you may consider alerting the police. Be aware that alerting the police may in some cases put the customer at further risk, and this is only appropriate in extreme circumstances. Speak to the customer about whether they would like you to involve the police and ensure that they are aware of your intention to do so before you call.
Updated July 2023
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