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Your Consumer Champion: Natalie Ledward

Natalie became the winner of our first Your Consumer Champion award after creating a gambling block that protects vulnerable customers. This is her story.

This is a guest post by Natalie Ledward. All views expressed are Natalie’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

Hello! I’m Natalie, and I work at Monzo Bank. Our company mission is to make money work for everyone.

Winning the first Which? Consumer Champion of the Year award has been a very humbling experience. I genuinely didn’t expect it. It’s incredible recognition for what was a really meaningful piece of work for everyone involved at Monzo.

The new award is extra special as it recognises individual contributors. I’m honoured to have been selected as I work alongside the most talented and passionate bunch who really are trying to change banking for the better.

When I joined the team, there seemed to be an emerging but consistent pattern in the customer queries escalated to us.

Customers were talking to us about their experiences with gambling addiction and, more specifically, asking if we could block gambling transactions on their account. 

Gambling addiction

I started to research gambling addiction and the support that other UK banks provide for their customers.

I could see there was an option to block gambling on some credit cards, and gambling transactions are automatically blocked on bank accounts for children, but I couldn’t find any bank offering a block on a UK current account for adults.

I spoke with charities and organisations who are experts in supporting vulnerable people, such as Money & Mental Health Policy Institute, Money Advice Trust and the Personal Finance Research Centre at the University of Bristol, as well as experts in gambling harm at Gamban, Newport Citizens Advice and YGAM amongst others.

It was clear that if we were to build something to block gambling transactions, it must be easy to turn on but difficult to turn off.

I worked with engineers and designers, and we put together a proposal for a gambling block.

How the block works

The gambling block is an optional feature that any Monzo customer can turn on in the app, or by reaching out to someone in our customer support team.

When a customer buys something with a Monzo account, each transaction is tagged with a code. These codes help us identify the kind of merchant they’re paying, and we usually use them to sort spending into categories, such as Bills or Eating Out. 

To build the gambling block, we put together a list of codes that let us identify when someone is making a payment to a gambling merchant, like a bookmakers or online gambling site. When the feature is turned on, we block any payments a customer tries to make to those merchants.

It’s very easy to turn on the gambling block, but we know that the decision to gamble can often be an impulsive one.

If a customer wants to lift the block they have to request this through our customer support channels and then wait 48 hours. It’s this friction, designed with compulsive gambling in mind, that makes it a useful tool alongside other methods of self-exclusion from gambling. 

Anecdotally, we have lots of customers that request for the block to be lifted, only to change their mind during the 48 hour cooldown period.

What’s next for the team?

There are now more than 110,000 people who have activated the gambling block, and we estimate that around 15% of those who have turned it on did so because they were concerned about their gambling and trying to control their spend.

We know that others have switched it on as reassurance that nobody else can gamble on their account, as a safety net.

Fewer than 5% of customers who have ever had the block active have lifted it, which suggests that the friction works for a lot of people.

Money, mental health and addiction are inextricably linked and we are working really hard to give our customers not only an understanding of their money, but also tools to make managing it much easier, particularly when circumstances make it difficult.

The work continues at Monzo for me and my colleagues to extend our support for vulnerable people. We’ve got some big problems to tackle, and the gambling block is just one of many tools we have planned to help people control their spending.

We’re working closely with industry experts to improve support across the industry for vulnerability, access and inclusion to make money work for everyone. If you’re interested in updates on our work, you can find them on our blog.

This was a guest post by Natalie Ledward. All views expressed were Natalie’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

Comments

Well done, Natalie, for creating a tool that will clearly help those with addiction-prone personalities. It’s a shame more UK banks hadn’t thought of this, and given as much time and energy as you obviously have to making life easier for many folk.

If you ever see casino type gambling adverts, the way they entice you with dressing up to be with your friends, make yourself comfortable in pink for ‘girls’ club, the ease of trying your luck, it is easy to see how quickly you could get into debt. There is only one winner and it isn’t going to be you although a tiny win here and there will keep you trying.

So well done Natalie.

GEOFFREY GILBEY says:
15 July 2019

I was employed by Ladbrokes a number years ago, Betting shops and Casinos.
My enduring knowledge of the betting industry is that the house never loses. I have observed not so stupid people trying to make calculations to beat the system. In the end the house always wins. The odds are against you. To become addicted is a destroyer of lives.

The betting and gaming industry could not survive unless the odds were stacked in their favour. That is the bookmaker’s or the game-designer’s art – to give the impression that the punter has a chance that is worth placing a stake for. But they also offer a consolation prize for the losers as well as the winners which costs them very little and comes in the form of ‘entertainment’ or just ‘amusement’. So if you don’t win you can’t complain because you have enjoyed yourself.

It is through talking up the value of such a ‘thrill’ that the operators have got the punters hooked, fixed, and ultimately addicted. Anything that provides a mechanism for people to save themselves from falling into the traps and tricks of the trade must be a good thing.

I am impressed that a bank is willing to pursue this course. Are banks not gamblers themselves? Are not loans, and being in debt, addictive for many? Surely banks are in the ‘wish fulfillment’ business as much as the suppliers of entertainment and amusement. Nevertheless, Monzo’s gambling block app is long overdue and I hope it helps a lot of people who have the desire to quit but not always the will to do so.

Congratulations to Natalie. As someone who has not even bought a lottery ticket I cannot begin to relate to gambling, though no-one can be immune to stories of how it can ruin lives.

If Natalie’s ‘gambling block’ proves successful, it would be great if if the technology was shared with other banks.