Financial services for the hardest to reach

27 Apr 2016

The Financial Health Exchange recently took part in a livechat discussion on the Guardian Public Leaders Network entitled ‘How to help residents trapped by financial exclusion’, supported by the Lloyds Banking Group.

It featured a number of organisations that have explored the issue of financial exclusion and sought ways to tackle the problems caused by problem indebtedness in the UK.

One of the most interesting topics of conversation was on the provision of advisory services for the hardest to reach, often the most vulnerable. Given the composition of the panel, from housing associations, councillors, and debt advice agencies, a lot of very useful ideas were raised on how to deal with this extremely problematic issue.

Kristina Leonnet, who manages Made of Money, the Quaker Social Action’s financial education programme, mentioned the power of networks and partnerships:

“Local services that people trust are key. With our direct delivery work we work through local schools, children centres, and other groups that people already have a relationship with and trust. We then work in partnership with these groups to support their families.”

Joanna Elson of the Money Advice Trust pointed out the extent to which an understanding of ‘vulnerability’ by different agencies can have a positive effect on how we engage with the ‘hard to reach’:

“There’s a much greater understanding now about people who are vulnerable and that any one of us can be vulnerable at some point in our lives – so we all have a responsibility, whether we are charities, banks, landlords, local authorities or other organisations to ensure our services are accessible and meet people’s needs. We need to make sure that the support that is available is accessible from the places where people go – we’ve heard some good examples of that in the conversation today, such as linking welfare advice with GP surgeries.”

The Financial Health Exchange’s own Sian Williams, head of national services, described how one of our most successful programmes, the Community Money Mentors programme, was designed on extensive community research:

“We directly asked people what they were struggling with, what they wanted to change, and what any programme needed to provide. After the first year most participants come through word of mouth and there are almost no drop outs. The success depends on asking what people need and want, listening and acting on that, making sure interventions offer real, immediate and tangible benefits as well as longer term outcomes, and are provided in a welcoming and respectful environment.”

Stephanie Cryan, a councillor in Rotherhithe, London, also mentioned that the financially excluded are often digitally excluded, too. This makes some people doubly hard to reach:

“Our new digital strategy is looking at how we can reduce digital exclusion and we work with local communities to help provide support and signpost to either the council or organisations who can help them.”

Since the introduction of the term “financial exclusion” in 1993 until the first major study of financial exclusion in the UK in 1999 researchers found that a large proportion of people, particularly in low income households, lacked any mainstream financial products and were often served by unscrupulous lenders.

Between 2005, when the Financial Inclusion Taskforce was founded, and 2011 when their work concluded they found that the number of households without access to a transaction bank account halved and the number of debt advice agencies had increased.

The Financial Inclusion Commission was set up in 2014 in order to make financial inclusion a top priority going into the 2015 general election, with an ambitious vision for 2020 to include making sure every adult was connected to the banking system, saving be encouraged, access to good and affordable insurance products and financial education be provided starting from primary school and going right the way into adulthood.

Connecting good services to hard to reach households remains a pain point for so many organisations, but there are plenty of good practice initiatives circulating that we can all learn from.