Views & commentary

Supporting vulnerable customers

Views & commentary

Supporting vulnerable customers

We’re working hard to understand and respond to the needs of those who may be in vulnerable circumstances


We’re working hard to understand and respond to the needs of those who may be in vulnerable circumstances

With around 52 million adults in the UK that use financial services, it’s essential that we understand their diverse experiences.

We want our customers to turn to us, knowing that we will care and support them in the moments that matter. This underpins all our work to support vulnerable customers both at Phoenix Group and across the industry.

Who are vulnerable customers?

The FCA’s definition of a vulnerable customer is someone, who due to their personal circumstances, is especially susceptible to harm, particularly when a firm is not acting with appropriate levels of care.

In 2022, a report from the FCA found that 24% of UK adults had poor financial resilience. Since then, prices have risen, borrowing costs have soared and even greater numbers are living with financial insecurity.

The root causes of vulnerability are complex and can include:

  • Mental health issues
  • Financial worries
  • Unemployment
  • Ill health
  • The cost-of-living crisis
  • Lack of savings

It may be permanent or temporary, but becoming vulnerable can affect every part of an individual’s well-being and it can have a short-term and long-term effect on people’s financial stability. As the cost-of-living crisis has progressed, more people are unable to pay their bills each month and risk falling into debt.

As an industry, we often speak to people when they are at their most vulnerable and worried, so we have a real responsibility to get to know and understand our customers individual needs.

“More than half of all UK adults (54%) – equivalent to 28.4 million people – reported feeling increased levels of anxiety or stress due to the cost of living.”

What challenges do businesses face in identifying and supporting vulnerable customers?

As vulnerable customers exist across all industries - not just in financial services - it’s important that all businesses think about how to identify and support them.

And although the root causes of vulnerability are complex, one thing is clear – the number of vulnerable customers is increasing.

But many companies struggle to assess vulnerability, as vulnerable people do not always see themselves in that way. Even those who do, will worry about stigmatisation and the potential consequences of ‘confessing’ to a vulnerability.

Because of this stigma surrounding self-identifying as a vulnerable customer, businesses are increasingly developing data-driven ways to identify indicators of potential vulnerability – such as using artificial intelligence and behavioural science.

What we’re doing to support our customers

At Phoenix, we have across our family of brands. And the potential for vulnerability among our customers is high due to their life stage. We invest heavily to make sure we address the needs of our customers. But we know that to drive real change, the private sector, government and third sector need to come together, collaborate, and find solutions.

That’s why we host a Vulnerable Customer summit every year. Each summit brings together a group of passionate, forward-thinking people who are working hard to understand and respond to the needs of those who may be in vulnerable circumstances.

Our 2024 summit looked at three areas:

  • Societal pressures today and the challenges customers are facing
  • The lived experience of vulnerable customers and a new project that is looking to break down the barriers to disclosing circumstances
  • The opportunities and risks inherent in AI.

And we’re also doing more to help people on their journey to and through retirement.

Helping customers take charge of their financial wellbeing with digital tools

Standard Life partnered with Moneyhub, to build the Money Mindset digital app and dashboard, which allows 1.5 million customers to link, track and monitor their finances and improve their financial wellbeing all in one place.

Supporting vulnerable customers

As well as holding our annual summit, in 2023, we launched our Samaritans Listening Wheel training for our colleagues. This interactive and immersive e-learning module equips the learner with the skills to become an active listener, based on 70 years of Samaritans’ expertise in training their own volunteers.

Making our services more inclusive

In 2023 we focused on our digital presence, auditing our services and digital estate for readability and accessibility. Also, in collaboration with the digital inclusion charity, Good Things Foundation, we launched our Digital Skills Hubs, which includes ‘how to’ videos on using our websites and apps across all our consumer brands. And our growing Digital Champion Network supported customer and community members with in-person digital skills training in our Edinburgh office.

"Our duty is to protect customers from harm, but we need to remove the barriers. I’m an optimist and believe that we can create a coalition and level the playing field to give some semblance of consistency for people as they are trying to navigate across the various financial institutions. Let’s keep the conversation going."