Mental health institute calls for overhaul to retail banking
THE Money and Mental Health Policy Institute (MMHPI) has called on banks to make their services more accessible to people with mental health issues, after new research showed that "financial capability" is affected by a wide range of relatively common conditions.
The research, published by the MMHPI itself, revealed that people's ability to "manage everyday financial tasks like paying bills or budgeting" is reduced by bouts poor mental health.
Because of this, the Institute are urging banks to provide people with mental health conditions with the kind of accessibility help they offer people with physical, visual or hearing impairments.
But in a country where one in four people experience mental health problems in a single year, this is something of an ambitious claim, since it would seem to require that banks make special mental health services available to all of their customers, and not just a select few.
As for these services, the MMHPI recommend a number of them in the final section of their report, entitled "Seeing through the fog".
They're collected under three headings, with the first - Budgeting support - calling for the introduction of the following:
It's important to note at this point that the reason why the MMHPI is recommending such services is because many mental health conditions - from depression to post-traumatic stress disorder - are associated with difficulties with short-term memory.
Similarly, their report finds that those with bipolar disorder or ADHD have problems when it comes to controlling their spending, while those with personality disorder "find it very difficult to compare options".
Control and communication
It's for such reasons that the Institute make the above recommendations relating to budgeting, yet they also advocate the following measures headlined under "Control options":
As with the above recommendations, these are motivated by the Institute's findings, which reveal that people experiencing depression struggle to plan ahead and understand the full implications of their (financial) actions.
Likewise, those with serious anxiety often shrink away from making telephone calls or opening their mail, which is why the MMHPI are also seeking more help with communication, including:
By acting on such recommendations, the Institute argue that banks will become much more sensitive to customers with mental health conditions.
And given that mental health problems and debt woes are locked in a vicious circle, they'll also be much better placed to reduce the £8.3 billion that debt-related mental and physical health issues cost the UK each year.
Commenting on this potential for their proposals to reform banking, the Director of the MMHPI, Polly Mackenzie, said, "We have assembled all the evidence to prove that mental health problems can severely affect consumers' ability to stay on top of their finances, shop around, or manage a budget. It's time for the financial services industry to adapt its services to help support people when they're unwell".
However, as well-meaning as the Institute's demand is here, and as rigorous as their research is, it's seems unlikely that their proposals will be implemented by banks, at least in the form they've presented them.
This is because they relate to far too many people. As they note, one in four people in the UK suffer mental health issues in a single year. As such, requiring financial institutions to adapt to the needs of such people is tantamount to asking these institutions to reform their entire customer service department.
The Institute is, in short, asking for a very substantial reform in how the banks treat their customers as a whole, as indicated when Polly Mackenzie says sensitivity to mental health needs "should be core business".
And in the end, it's because they're asking for a wholesale reform of banking customer service that the banks will resist their sensible guidelines, citing "cost" as the reason for why they can't introduce more than few tokenistic measures.
And this is a shame, because the UK does have a serious problem with mental health, and it's about time the banks fully recognised the role they have in this problem, and the role they could have in alleviating it.