Originally published in BSA Society Matters magazine.
By the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute.
One in four UK adults experience mental health problems each year, and half will in their lifetime. So what can building societies do to help customers?
Ill mental health can have a devastating impact on people’s finances, with common symptoms of mental health problems — such as reduced concentration and memory, low motivation or increased impulsivity — making it much harder to earn or manage spending.
They can also make it much harder for people to choose, use and engage with the services that building societies and other financial services firms offer.
It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that people with mental health problems are three and a half times more likely to be in problem debt.
These issues can be compounded by the stigma around both mental health and debt, which can make it hard for people to open up about what they are going through to even family and friends, never mind their building society or bank.
But the good news is that building societies can still play a crucial role in helping customers experiencing mental health problems to avoid falling into financial difficulty, by taking steps to make their services more supportive and accessible.
One key way to do that is to ensure your staff have the training and tools they need to better support customers who may be struggling with their mental health.
That means ensuring staff have adequate training on mental health problems and resources and tools to support people affected by these issues.
To help with this, Money and Mental Health and the Money Advice Trust have recently published ‘The Need to Know’ guide for creditors.
It features detailed information about how specific mental health conditions may affect a customer’s ability to manage money, and practical advice to creditors on how to support people in this situation.
A second key way in which building societies can help customers experiencing mental health problems is by improving the range of communication channels through which they can get in touch.
For example, our research shows that more than half of people with mental health problems face serious difficulties using the phone to carry out essential admin, such as phoning their building society or bank.
Offering a range of ways for customers to get in contact with your firm — from webchat, to text messages and face-to-face appointments — would help ensure that people with mental health problems can make the most of the services you offer.
Finally, building societies should take steps to support people with poor mental health to engage with their services on an ongoing basis.
For example, simple actions such as offering to send customers messages or transcripts of their previous interactions, and reminders on key action points, would help people who are struggling with reduced memory or concentration due to mental health problems, to stay on top of their finances on a long-term basis.
To help building societies and other essential services firms make their services more supportive and accessible for people with mental health problems, Money and Mental Health has launched the Mental Health Accessible scheme.
Through this initiative, we are working with firms to test how accessible their services are, giving them a unique insight into the experiences of customers who have mental health problems, and how to ensure they get a better deal.
You can find out more about how to get involved with the Mental Health Accessible scheme here.