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Creative Ways to Help Vulnerable Customers

On a recent visit to a conference in Melbourne, an old friend was discussing her new approach to helping vulnerable customers who can’t afford to pay their electricity bills. As electricity is deemed an essential service in Australia, the supply cannot be disconnected for non-payment; this is a heavily regulated industry with a very strong customer focus. This innovative regional electricity company has now started to think completely differently about the term non-payment, and focus on how can they help their customers in this dire financial situation.

Their idea is very creative and simple: they install solar panels on the home of the customer in financial stress. They provide the solar panels & installation. The customer’s debt and ongoing charges then gets reduced, as an excess of the supply from the solar panels gets sold back into the grid by the supplier. Eventually the debt is paid, the customer has no to little energy bill and any excess is generating additional revenue for the supplier. It’s a win-win situation.

I have been seeking out similar schemes across other organisations, that are truly putting the customer first, demonstrating that the organisation is living its values and pushing the boundaries of assisting vulnerable customers in severe distress.

When I attended the Credit Strategy Vulnerability Summit in Manchester, I came across another innovative scheme that is proving to have great results. A UK water company — also providing an essential service and heavily regulated — is focussed on payment matching or match pay. This isn’t a new idea, but the way they have introduced it is.

For every £1 the customer pays, the company matches it. If the customer keeps up payments for 12 months, the company pays £2 for every £1 the customer pays. The results speak for themselves: 70% continue with payments after the scheme finishes.

It’s no surprise that innovative ideas to help vulnerable customers are coming to life in heavily regulated industries, where there are no disconnection (or sale) possibilities. My challenge to the banking sector is: what are you solar panels? Are you truly doing enough for your customers in need? How can you take inspiration from other sectors to dramatically improve your customer journeys for people in financial need?

I can help with this. If you are in the collections and recovery sector, I and my teammates at FICO are keen to bring ideas from across the utility, telco, DCA and financial sectors into your business to help you give customers a fair outcome. We offer much more than our collections and recovery solutions — we offer the advice of people who study what the industry is doing, and what is working.

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