Helen Undy, Head of External Affairs, Money and Mental Health

Another campaign win - a bank that lets you block gambling

I’m not sure how it happened, but another year has passed. It’s mental health awareness week again, and my second Money and Mental Health birthday. I have mixed feelings about awareness weeks. Generally I think they’re helpful – just so long as awareness also leads to action from those with the power to make a difference; tackling the risk factors for poor mental health and improving access to treatment and support. That’s why I’m so delighted that this mental health awareness week we get to announce another real-world impact from our research: a bank introducing the option to block gambling on all their cards.

An unlikely hero

Last October I presented new Money and Mental Health research at the Gambling Commission annual conference. Problem gambling can cause spiralling debt, devastate our mental health and destroy relationships, and we wanted to explore what more could be done to help. For people struggling to limit their gambling, the most effective way to stop can be to self-exclude – so that when willpower isn’t enough, you still can’t fall back into the habit. However, it’s currently not possible to self-exclude from all forms of gambling; after excluding from one high street bookies people can log on and gamble online, or find a casino. It’s a system that just doesn’t work. Self-excluding from a single type of gambling can require contacting numerous operators over the phone or in person, all of which can be particularly hard when you’re also struggling with your mental health.

That’s why we decided to look for a solution outside the gambling industry. Who else could help? And we turned to a potentially unlikely hero, the banks. Banks and other card providers categorise everything you spend according to the type of thing you’re buying. So while they probably don’t know if you’re buying apples or oranges, they’ll know it’s groceries. On some company credit cards, and pocket money cards aimed at children, it’s already possible to turn off some types of spending using these categories – so why not for the rest of us?

Positive friction

Since October we’ve been talking to banks and credit card providers about allowing their customers to turn off gambling transactions on cards – essentially creating a new gambling self exclusion regime that really works. Today, as if as a perfectly timed Money and Mental Health birthday present for me, Monzo has announced that they will do just that. And not only will you be able to turn gambling off on your card in the app, but it will take a chat with the customer services team and a 48 hour breather before it can be turned back on. This ‘positive friction’ is an important way to give people the time and space to make considered decisions, minimising the harm that can be caused in a manic episode, or even just an impulsive moment.

Another tool in the toolkit

By my next Money and Mental Health birthday, I’d like to see settings like this become a common option right across the industry. It’s not about banks policing people’s behaviour (after all, it’s something you turn on yourself), but it’s another tool in the toolkit for anyone who might be struggling. And that can only be a good thing. It’s great to see so many financial service providers marking mental health awareness week this year; I’d encourage all of them to also consider if they also can make a commitment to do something practical like this that would really make a difference.