Last year the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (“DCMS”) ministers met with banks and gambling operators to discuss their growing concerns, and how companies could use technology and customer data to help those at risk of developing gambling problems. Brigid Simmonds, chair of the Betting and Gaming Council, recently called for the banking industry to intervene with their customers in the same way that gambling operators are required to – but are banks now starting to play their part?
In November 2018, Barclays became the first high street bank to assist problem gamblers in controlling their gambling, by allowing customers to block payments relating to certain categories of spending, including gambling. Unhelpfully, it can be switched instantly on and off through its online banking app. Since then, many other high street banks have followed suit in making similar measures available to customers, which work by automatically declining any attempted payments within selected categories.
Payment blocking is just one way that banks are attempting to protect customers from gambling-related harm, and the range of measures on offer varies greatly between banks.
Whilst many banks provide the option of blocking gambling payments via both credit and debit card, at present NatWest, RBS and MBNA only offer blocking on credit card payments. When the Gambling Commission’s ban on credit cards comes into effect on 14 April 2020 and customers have no option but to use their debit cards should they want to gamble, these banks will need to review this feature if it is to provide any useful function for customers at all.
Some banks are carefully considering how best to protect their customers from gambling-related harms and are innovating new ways to do so. Starling Bank now:
- signposts a customer removing a gambling payment block to the National Gambling Helpline; and
- has an automatic 48-hour cooling off period before actioning a customer’s request to remove a gambling payment block.
Similar cooling-off periods are already offered by a number of other banks, including HSBC, Lloyds Bank and Royal Bank of Scotland, and is likely to prove a useful tool for problem gamblers. Research shows that providing customers with a break or interruption in play provides a valuable opportunity to reflect on their gambling and, therefore, their decision to remove the gambling payment block, minimising the risk of impulsive decisions.
Monzo and NatWest go one step further. Monzo requires customers to speak to customer services before the gambling payment block can be removed, creating friction and perhaps another opportunity to reflect on their spending.
NatWest recently launched free psychological counselling in-branch to anyone, whether or not they are a NatWest customer, who has a gambling problem. The scheme was initially launched in several branches in London and the South East, but will be extended based on demand from problem gamblers. HSBC, meanwhile, has sought the assistance of GamCare to train its staff to respond to calls from customers about gambling, and has announced that it will analyse data on card spending to see who might benefit from advice.
A holistic approach is undoubtedly the best way to help those experiencing gambling-related harms and is also the approach advocated by the Betting and Gaming Council in key action four of its Safer Gambling Commitments. It is therefore encouraging to see banks of all sizes accepting that they too have a part to play in tackling the issue, and it is hoped that banks will continue to work closely with the gambling industry, DCMS, the Gambling Commission and gambling charities to improve the tools already on offer and to innovate new ways to help customers manage their gambling.