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Digital bank Monzo tackles gambling addiction head on

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, Monzo will be launching a new team and features for vulnerable customers.

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Announced today, challenger bank Monzo will become the first bank in the UK to release a feature which allows customers to block all transactions related to gambling. In a gesture of support to those who have chosen to self-exclude from gambling behaviour, Monzo has said it is part of a wider initiative to help its customers who are vulnerable to financial debt.

Switching on the feature inside the Monzo app will block any payment that the user tries to make to gambling merchants using their Monzo account, both online and in person. This is an example of ‘merchant category code blocking’ in play, utilising the code tagging system that is attached to each transaction, enabling the bank identify the type of merchant being paid. The process is already used in the UK by some providers of children’s bank accounts to block inappropriate activity, and in the US where gambling is illegal in some states.

In order to remove the block, users will have to speak with a member of Monzo’snew Vulnerable Customers team, before embarking on a 48 hour period after which they can switch off the feature in the app. The specialised contingent of its Customer Operations team has been tasked with handling enquiries users that are at risk of financial detriment, and to whom according to FCA regulations, Monzo must offer a higher level of care.

“We don’t have checklists that define what may or may not make someone vulnerable,” explained Stuart McFadden, Monzo’s new head of financial difficulties. “It depends on each person’s situation at a particular time, and whether it affects the way they deal with Monzo.

“While most banks will actually be really supportive if people reach out to explain their situation, the problem starts earlier on. When people aren’t paying their creditors, it isn’t because they don’t want to, it’s because they can’t. So strongly-worded letters and persistent phone calls won’t achieve much. They just add to the fear and stigma people already feel, and make them less likely to reach out and ask for the support they really need.”

One of Monzo’s vulnerable customer specialists, Natalie Ledward, added that while this new feature won’t work for everyone, the bank hopes that also increasing access to other self-exclusion schemes or support will go a long way in tackling a vulnerable customer’s financial health needs. Monzo has said it hopes to train every person in the company with the skills they need to support vulnerable customers, and implement tactics like pointing customers towards external organisations when they require more help than Monzo can offer personally.

According to research from industry body GambleAware, 80 per cent of people seeking help from a gambling addition have also reported being in debt. In the UK, around 0.8 per cent of people identify as a problem gambler, which is estimated to equate to more than 5,000 of Monzo’s own users.

“For many people, gambling is a harmless leisure activity. But when it goes wrong, problem gambling can cause spiralling debt, devastate our mental health and destroy relationships,” commented Helen Undy, head of external affairs at the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute.

“It's currently not possible to self-exclude from all forms of gambling; after excluding from high street bookies, people can cross the street to go to a casino, or log on and gamble online. It's a system that just doesn't work. That's why we've been calling for banks to step in, allowing customers to block all types of gambling transaction in one go. It's a simple change which could make an enormous difference, and we hope to see more banks following suit and offering it to their customers soon."

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