There are millions of people in the UK struggling to pay their bills, according to the Debt Advisory Centre.  It says that nine million adults think they owe too much money and four and a half million people find it difficult to keep up with essential bills.

At the same time, many organisations now serve and communicate with their customers using an array of digital channels, with these interactions becoming increasingly personalised, timely, convenient and reliable. A 2016 BBA (British Banking Association) report discovered that customers are now using mobile banking apps more than 7,610 times a minute, or four billion times a year.

The current Income and Expenditure (I&E) process is not conducive to today’s digital world, despite recent research from Experian[1] showing that people struggling with debt prefer to create their repayment plans online. 62% said managing debt online is easier and more convenient; and 56% agreed that managing it online would enable them to retake control more easily.

The Money Advice Service recently launched the ‘Standard Financial Statement’ (SFS), meaning for the first time, debt advice providers and creditors can now use the same format to assess people’s finances when they are in debt. Consumers will no longer face different types of Income and Expenditure (I&E) assessments, and as a result should receive more accurate and unified debt advice.

I&E assessments, fundamental to both the FCA’s rules on responsible lending and the SFS, are often inefficient and can deliver a poor customer journey.

We know that a typical I&E analysis can tie up agents and customers for an average of 45 minutes. This is frustrating for the customer and the cost for the provider to conduct each assessment is between £40-80. These traditionally phone and spreadsheet-based interactions lead to more errors as the customer might not have the necessary data while speaking to an agent, or they may feel embarrassment in discussing their situation.

A new omni-channel approach, further driven by the introduction of the SFS, means that the agent, customer or both can complete I&E forms across multiple devices, as well as on the phone.

We work with banks, telecoms and utilities companies, all with products and services governed by FCA guidelines to varying degrees. We think the following are key to creating a frictionless I&E customer journey:

  • Keep it simple: An intuitive form with simple questions and a process that is easy to navigate.
  • Mix it up: Use phone calls at the beginning and end of the I&E process, but offer self-service options across several channels for customers to input specific details and data.
  • Get buy in: Secure customer consent at the beginning of the call, rather than the end. Allowing consumers to input their own data gives them more ownership of the process.
  • Support not hassle: Allow the customer to save the draft at any time and come back if needed. Provide support (via phone, web, SMS and email) to the customer, ensuring communication lines are always open but not burdensome.

This approach greatly enhances the I&E customer journey. As a result, we see completion rates and accuracy exponentially increased because the process allows the consumer to check details and input those facts on the device of their choice. This makes for much more accurate and fairer affordability assessments and secures consumer buy-in and accountability.

Humanising the I&E process means interacting with customers in the way or ways that they feel comfortable with, when it suits them, to deliver positive experiences and better outcomes, more often.

[1] *Survey conducted by Opinium Research 23 to 25 September 2015 amongst 2002 respondents to a nationally representative sample.

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