By 2020 almost 1 in 2 of the UK population will get cancer at some point in their lives. Macmillan Cancer Support has published a report “In the balance – The banking sector’s vital role in supporting people with cancer” to highlight the key role of financial services providers in supporting customers affected by cancer and to encourage financial service providers to do more to support these customers.
The problems that customers affected by cancer face
As well as the obvious serious health challenges that cancer creates, individuals affected by cancer and their families/ supporters often find themselves faced with financial problems created by the cost of cancer and the pressures of living through it.
In 2013, Macmillan Cancer Support estimated that a typical person with a cancer diagnosis will be £570 per month worse off under their new circumstances. This is due to a combination of reduced income through having to stop work or reduce working hours, and increased costs such as travel, food and energy bills associated with cancer treatment. Individuals supporting a person with cancer can be equally worse off if they have to give up work or cut down hours worked in order to care for a relative or friend with cancer.
In both cases, how to manage these new financial circumstances while continuing mortgage/ loan/ credit card repayments on a reduced income without falling into debt can become a major worry. More on the costs of cancer can be found in the Macmillan Cancer report “Cancer’s hidden price tag”.
The stress of dealing with cancer can also affect an individual’s physical and mental health and so reduce the their focus on financial and other non-illness related matters. This can make these people more vulnerable to debt or other financial problems through inability or reluctance to communicate their financial difficulties with other people, particularly to creditor institutions.
How building societies can support people living with cancer
The Macmillan report makes a number of recommendations for banks, building societies and other financial services firms:
- Ensure that employees have sufficient knowledge about cancer as well as general vulnerability training to meet the needs of customers with cancer.
- Ensure that people are aware of, and referred to, specialist support where this is available.
- Increase the focus on early identification of people affected by cancer and the development of early interventions to support them.
- Develop flexible policies and processes to help people affected by cancer manage mortgage payments and other credit commitments.
- Invest in communications to their customers to increase awareness of – and confidence in – the support available to encourage them to disclose a cancer diagnosis.
- Evaluate and monitor the effectiveness of interventions designed to support vulnerable customers and share best practice to improve sector-wide consistency.
Examples of flexible policies that can help these customers include flexible mortgage repayment arrangements, waiver of notice periods for withdrawals from notice savings accounts, communications tailored to the customer’s preferred channels and allowing a chosen 3rd party to support the customer in running their finances – e.g. when the customer is undergoing debilitating cancer treatment.
Equally important are good customer engagement skills so that customers affected by cancer are comfortable in talking about their situation.
One practical help for customers affected by cancer their and their families is to suggest that they contact the Macmillan Financial Guidance Service. This provides expert advice on products, services and benefits available for people affected by cancer – referral to the Macmillan service has helped Nationwide customers to access £114,000 of benefits-related financial assistance that they would otherwise not have known about.
Macmillan Financial Guidance Service can be contacted on 0800 808 0000. The service is available Monday to Thursday, 9am to 5pm, and Friday, 9am to 4.30pm and we recommend that all relevant employees should help customers affected by cancer and / or their families to the Macmillan Financial Guidance Service.
You can view the full Macmillan report here.