The majority of UK customers don’t even realise they are vulnerable. Only 17% of UK consumers self-identify as vulnerable, despite 67% being deemed as potentially vulnerable when assessed against Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) criteria. That is according to research conducted by NICE, in its new Vulnerable Customer Report.

This gap in awareness could have dangerous consequences for both consumer and business as vulnerable customers are left without adequate support when they need it most at a time and regulators are tightening rules.

The survey found that 39% of respondents mistakenly believe that vulnerability is solely dependent on age and only applies to those aged 65 and over. Yet, 38% of respondents in all other age groups said they would struggle to meet an increased rent or mortgage payment of just £50 per month, putting them in an extremely vulnerable position financially. In contrast, just 14% of over 65s felt heavily burdened by bills and credit payments. This group was also least likely to have changed their behaviour due to financial pressure in the past year.

Five hidden consumer groups are at risk of vulnerability

However, even when vulnerability is self-identified, the survey found that consumers may not be willing to talk about it. 71% of consumers correctly identified poor mental health as a driver of vulnerability, but 38% would still not be comfortable sharing details of poor mental health with a customer service advisor. This rises to 47% for those who identified as currently experiencing poor mental health in the survey. This puts customer service agents at a disadvantage when trying to offer support to vulnerable customers.

Based on the findings, the report lays out five hidden consumer groups at risk of vulnerability that all businesses should be aware of: unexpected carers, ground-down Gen Z, striving renters, hard-up homemakers and solo sufferers.  

Richard Bassett, VP of Digital & Analytics at NICE, said: “Offering personalised, empathetic customer service in today’s digital world can be challenging. This becomes even more complex when needing to support vulnerable customers. As our report highlights, the signs of vulnerability are not always easy to detect, especially when consumers aren’t aware of their own vulnerability or willing to talk about it. Yet many businesses still rely on agents to not only accurately identify vulnerability during every conversation, but also respond to their varying needs. With regulators tightening rules around the fair treatment of vulnerable customers, businesses risk large fines if they don’t get this right.”

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