Newsbite article

Supporting customers affected by cancer

by James O'Sullivan, BSA Policy Adviser
There are currently 2.5 million people living with cancer in the UK and this number is expected to grow to 4 million by 2030. Research commissioned by Macmillan Cancer Support has also revealed that four out of five people are, on average, £570 a month worse off as a result of their cancer diagnosis.

These startling facts highlight the key role of financial services providers in supporting customers affected by cancer and other long-term illnesses. These customers often find managing their day to day finances a challenge and need their building society or bank to be on their side as they face the physical and psychological impact of their diagnosis.

Macmillan Cancer Support has just published a report “How can we help – the role of financial services providers in supporting customers affected by cancer.” The report is based on Macmillan’s experience of working with Nationwide to set up a specialist support service for customers affected by cancer. Nationwide has been a long-term supporter of Macmillan in terms of fundraising, but decided to invest in improving their support services following a senior management away-day meeting affected customers. Fifteen months later, the Nationwide Specialist Support Service is up and running, with enthusiastic backing from all Nationwide employees.

The Macmillan report sets out the steps that Nationwide went through, from preparing the business case for the new service, recruiting and training staff, making policy decisions on what types of arrangements the specialist advisers would be able to offer a customer and finally, launching the service. This included enlisting all other employees to promote the service and help identify customers who were in need of this care. It also shares some of the lessons learned – in particular, recognising that supporting customers with cancer is a good starting point to extend this service to customers with other vulnerabilities.

This is summarised in the section "A model for the financial services industry" which sets out some key themes and challenges for achieving positive outcomes for customers with cancer – though Macmillan and Nationwide believe that these can also be of value in supporting other types of vulnerability as well. Some of the challenges to consider are:
 
  • Where to start – vulnerability is such a potentially wide area that it can be difficult to know what to focus on first.
  • Putting together a strong business case.
  • Establishing consumer confidence.
  • Maintaining an appropriate balance between flexibility and responsibility.For example, is continually deferring a debt problem helpful for the customer in the long term?
  • Getting buy in – both from senior managers and from employees.
Not everyone has the resources to mobilise and tackle this problem, but support for customers affected by cancer is possible, starting by understanding how you can meet their particular needs. As with any type of vulnerability, the key is empathy, confidence and the ability to offer solutions tailored to each individual. 
Practical help for customers affected by cancer could include introducing them to the Macmillan Financial Guidance Service for more general advice on products, services and benefits available for people affected by cancer. Referral to the Macmillan service has helped Nationwide customers so far access £114,000 of benefits-related financial assistance that they otherwise would not have known about.