Following Armed Forces Day this weekend, our Senior Insight Manager writes how even the bravest among us sometimes need that extra bit of support.
Registered firms will be well aware of the need to design and deliver inclusive products and services that ‘take into account the broad range of customers to which they may apply.’ This requirement of the Standards of Lending Practice (the Standards) is set out to ensure that customers who may be vulnerable are adequately supported and that their financial needs are met. But it is interesting to think that those who ‘due to their personal circumstances, are especially susceptible to harm’ could include some of our strongest, fittest, and bravest citizens.
Members of the Armed Forces and their families will likely not be what most people think of when we think of those at risk. And as someone with close family ties to the army, I recognise the term vulnerable is not one often associated with soldiers, sailors, or airmen and women. However, there are situations for Armed Forces members and their families that, without foresight and adaptability on the behalf of firms, could lead to ‘harm’ and bad outcomes.
For example, being a member of the Armed Forces regularly involves being away for long periods of time. These tours of duty temporarily force families apart often for six months, pushing one half of the family to take control of the ‘home life’ whilst the other is away. This can create a great deal of strain on all involved and, when it comes to finances, places a lot of responsibility on the one remaining at home. There may be letters arriving at the house for the partner who is away. If these relate to arrears or other financial challenges, the partner then faces the prospect of calling creditors without a full picture of what is going on. Speaking to a firm with an empathetic and adaptable approach could make all the difference and help take some of the pressure off.
Another challenge for members of the Armed Forces is the potential difficulty building a credit or address history. This is because of the frequent moves and time out of the country, and it may not become apparent until the individual has left the forces and is looking to settle into life away from the military. Registered firms need to ensure that their processes and practices do not lead to excluding members of the Armed Forces or veterans. This requirement is within the Product Sale section of the Standards, setting out how customers should not be ‘at a disadvantage because they are serving/have recently served in the British Armed Forces.’
It is also worth firms considering whether the options available to customers are clear and well communicated, for example, when it comes to having an appointed representative. If a customer is due to go on tour for six months, it may be very useful to have an appointed representative who can take care of day to day matters in their absence. Firms should not assume customers will know about the options available to them, and so communicating them clearly and in plain English can help encourage customers to make the best choices for their personal circumstances.
Members of the military and their families deserve our respect and gratitude. Within registered firms and the wider financial services sector, we can do more by ensuring that all customers have access to the products and services they need, and that any support they require is available, appropriate, and effective.
 LSB, Standards of Lending Practice – personal (consumer vulnerability)
 LSB, Standards of Lending Practice – personal (product sale)