Helen Undy, Director, Money and Mental Health

Progress in the bank towards tackling problem gambling

19 October 2018

Problem gambling is a notoriously secretive activity. Often there are only three people or organisations who know about someone’s gambling habits – the gambler, the gambling company, and their bank. So when the gambler is struggling to control their behaviour there are limited people who can step in to help.

Of course, significant responsibility must sit with the gambling companies themselves, under the regulation of the Gambling Commission. But it’s not in their interests to fix this and action has been slow. So while we push for tougher regulation of the gambling companies, we also need to focus on the third party in this unfortunate love triangle: the banks. Arguably the banks aren’t causing this harm, but they know it’s happening, and we think they have some of the greatest scope to fix it.

We’re calling on all banks and credit card providers to allow their customers to block gambling on their credit and debit cards – stopping almost all forms of gambling transaction in one go. This function is already available on most company credit cards to protect businesses from misuse of their funds, and we’d like to see the same protections offered to the customers themselves.

A tool that works, and that people want

Great progress has been made in the past year since we launched our research on gambling and stepped up our call on banks and credit card providers to act. Last month the Labour party responded to our campaign and made it their policy to force banks to allow customers to block gambling transactions. Monzo and Starling bank have taken action already by introducing a gambling block. And this week, we hosted a roundtable with UK Finance and the Gambling Commission, bringing together many of the biggest financial services firms to discuss what more they could do.

At the event this week Monzo shared details of the the impact their block has had so far:

  • Over 30,000 customers enabled the block since June, only 257 of whom have since turned it off
  • 59% of block users turned in on in their first week after opening a Monzo account, suggesting the block is acting as an incentive to join the bank
  • 50% of those who said they turned on the block because they are concerned about their gambling are not receiving any support from elsewhere.

The Monzo gambling block requires customers to speak to customer service before it can be removed, and then involves a 48 hour cooling-off period. Of those using the block because of concerns about their gambling, over half said that the cooling off period influenced their decision about whether to to turn the block off ‘a lot’, and nearly half said the same about the interaction with customer services.

Clearly this is both a tool that customers want, and one that’s working – although its design will be key to its success. Monzo has also seen an increase in cash withdrawals from people using the gambling block (potentially to spend on gambling), and an increase in requests from customers to reduce their cash withdrawal limit – we were pleased to hear that this is on their list of areas to explore for the next iteration of the gambling block.

Steps in the right direction

This week’s meeting was a big step in the right direction – bringing together senior people from most of the UK’s major banks to discuss what action they could take. It wouldn’t have happened 18 months ago, and we hope that in another 18 months we’ll be looking back at this as a success story for the banking industry, and one that’s truly saving lives.