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Digital banks mobilise against gambling addiction

Starling has pipped Monzo to launching a gambling block feature, after Monzo first announced the idea in May.

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Sticking true to its ethos, the digital banking sector is arming its users with the tools to self-exclude from gambling.

In mid-May, Monzo announced that it would become the first bank in the UK to allow its customers to block all transactions related to gambling. The initiative was launched as part of Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK.

But while Monzo has been prepping its tool, Starling has nipped in with a gambling block feature of its own. Starling has consequently claimed this morning to have become the first bank to launch such a tool.

Similar to Monzo’s proposed feature – which is expected to go live in the next week or two – customers can activate the blocker from within the Starling app. Once activated, all attempted transactions to registered gambling merchants will be blocked.

But there are subtle differences between the two tools. It would seem that Monzo’s blocker will be harder to deactivate. Users will have to speak to a member of the bank’s newly-formed Vulnerable Customers team to confirm that they’d like to remove the block, before entering a 48-hour 'cooling' period. Only after this time can the gambling block be lifted.

Starling users will be able to deactivate the block in-app. Should they do so, however, they will receive the following message: “You are cancelling the block you put in place to prevent you from gambling. If you are worried you spend more than you should on gambling, call the National Gambling Helpline now on 0808 8030 133 for free advice on how to stay in control.”

Both Starling and Monzo, in announcing their tools, referenced recent Gambling Commission findings that 0.8 per cent of the British public identify as having a gambling problem. For Monzo, in May, this was estimated to equate to more than 5,000 customers.

Meanwhile, national findings suggest 5 per cent of gamblers display at least one sign of difficulty managing their behaviour. In light of these findings, the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute recently called, in a report, for banks and card providers to allow customers to block gambling transactions.

Starling’s gambling blocker underlines how digital banking can quickly react to issues facing customers and use technology to develop solutions that help them to live a better financial life,” said Starling’s CEO Anne Boden, who was recently awarded an MBE for services to financial technology.

“This isn’t about telling customers not to gamble – it’s about providing problem gamblers with a simple and effective tool that can help them to regain control over their finances.”

Helen Undy, head of external affairs at the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, offered her thoughts: “Problem gambling can lead to spiralling debts and cause real harm to our mental health. The current gambling self-exclusion process is very complicated; different types of gambling have different systems, and blocking gambling can require contacting multiple operators over the phone or in person. 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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