Chris Lees, Research Officer, Money and Mental Health

How can banks best support their customers with gambling problems?

20 July 2021

Today we’ve launched a best practice guide for banks, building societies and other financial firms on how they can best support their customers who are experiencing gambling-related harm. We’ve developed this guide by speaking to banks, as part of a two year project, to hear about what they’re currently doing and what is working well for customers. We’ve also drawn on the experiences and views of members of our Research Community, and research conducted by other organisations, to make sure that the guide is informed by people’s lived experiences of gambling problems.

Gambling can be an enjoyable activity for many people but for others it can cause significant financial and psychological harm. It is estimated that over two million people in Great Britain are classified as problem gamblers or at risk of harm from problem gambling. This means that gambling is damaging to them, their family or their life. Our own research has found that struggling with gambling and experiencing mental health problems are often interlinked. 

“The addiction to load money then use it to bet is like a hit of cocaine. Wasted hundreds of pounds and missed payments. Very depressing.” Expert by experience

Banks can play a crucial role in supporting customers who struggle to control their gambling, as they and gambling companies are often the only ones who know about someone’s behaviour – and are therefore in an important and unique position to help. While we’ve been pushing for online gambling to be made safer, banks are well placed to act now to help their customers avoid some of the worst harms. This is something many people who are affected by these issues want – in national polling nearly half (47%) of people who gamble online agreed that banks should be doing more to help people stay in control of their gambling.  

“I think the bank would be a better place to stop me as I just go somewhere else to gamble if stopped by the [online gambling] company and at the end of the day, it’s their job to take your/our money.” Expert by experience

What should banks be doing?

We know that banks are at different stages of this journey, so we have created our guide with this in mind. For banks just starting out, we outline the initial first steps they should take. For those further along, we identify advanced steps and in some cases, we highlight ways they can lead the sector. Our guide and recommendations cover three key areas: 

  • Creating a culture of support and ensuring staff are equipped to help

To make sure that customers experiencing gambling problems are well supported, banks should have a culture within the organisation that means that staff know about the issue and how they can help. Banks can do this by providing staff with training and guidance on gambling. Banks could also involve people with lived experience of gambling problems when they are creating new tools and communications to make sure they work best for their customers. 

“[I’d like my bank to have] specialist, trained support teams that can guide and advise but not intimidate.” Expert by experience

  • Identifying and reaching out to customers struggling with their gambling

It can be very difficult for someone to tell their bank that they are struggling to control their gambling and that they need help. Banks can make this easier by letting their customers know how the bank can support them. We also think banks could be doing more with the customer transaction data they have to better understand the problem and in some cases support a customer they’ve identified through data as struggling with their gambling. 

“If bank statements show lots of outgoings to gambling sites, perhaps it should be part of their duty to notify the account holder of the amount they are spending, and offer support. Even if it is as simple as some leaflets through the post. Just something.” Expert by experience

  • Supporting and empowering those at risk

Finally, banks can provide a range of support to customers to empower them to manage their finances and get the help they need. This can include letting customers know about other organisations who might be able to better support them with their gambling problems. Many banks also offer customers a gambling block that prevents spending on gambling. We think this is a great way for customers to manage their money and all banks should be offering it.

“[Banks should] allow customers to set limits or blocks on payments to gambling companies.” Expert by experience

Supporting customers at risk of gambling-related harm will always be an evolving task, but banks can play a crucial role – and can make a real difference to people’s lives today. We are always keen to hear from banks about actions they are taking to help their customers, and where our expert team can offer practical support and customer insight. If you want to find out more, please contact us at [email protected].

You can read the full best practice guide here.