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Towards an inclusive economy

Delivering services for changing customer needs

By Mandy Griffin  

This article was produced in association with Nationwide

To be inclusive is to be involving others, sharing ideas and working together. Just as it applies to individuals and society, it applies to businesses. But business tends to call it collaboration.

This collaboration must be at the heart of an inclusive economy. And business has a major role to play in collaboration between government and civil society.

These groups are beginning to come together as businesses come to terms with more diverse and changing customer needs.

Sectors are beginning to work together to tackle the significant challenges of an ageing population, exploiting ever-changing technological developments. But more can be done in making the response better co-ordinated and more cohesive.

Financial services products and processes haven’t always been flexible enough in the past. Financial inclusion and the monetary implications of life-limiting illness and poor mental health are the types of problems which the sector must take more account of. Given that financial services are a vital part of our economy, with the capacity to improve the life chances and wellbeing of individuals and of the country, it’s crucial we get the responses to these challenges right.

At Nationwide, we believe that our ethos has produced an ethic of care and a norm of doing the right thing by our members. As a building society, we were born of a social, not a commercial purpose, and this alignment of interest between the Society, members and the communities we serve is fundamental to how we think and make decisions. Voluntary initiatives, such as developing our own vulnerable customer programme are critical.

We believe that any person can become vulnerable, at any point in time. People can be economically and/or physically vulnerable. Sometimes it can be temporary, such as the result of losing your job. Sometimes it’s longer lasting, such as a being diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Crucially to us, vulnerabilities can be multifaceted with complex causes.

Addressing broad, inter-connected challenges like these requires collaboration.

Around three years ago, we devised an initiative with Macmillan Cancer Support to share in one another’s expertise. We collaborated to establish a dedicated team as a single point of contact for queries from customers in vulnerable circumstances.

We’ve called it our Specialist Support Service and it provides customers with a bespoke and dedicated team, a named contact person, and tailored, flexible support.

We’ve since built on the Macmillan collaboration and it’s now available for people with other life limiting illnesses and with poor mental health. We’ve supported thousands of our customers, by adapting processes such as refunding late payment fees, identifying support groups and providing a named case worker throughout the process.

Maintaining the spirit of collaboration, supported by our regulators, we’ve been sharing our approach across financial services. We’ve been connecting to other sectors and striking up further partnerships with civil society.

And we’re encouraged to see others starting to adopt similar initiatives.

On such extensive issues, greater consistency in how customers are treated is essential. Without this, there is a risk that some are left behind. The prime minister made this point in her “shared society” speech at the start of the year. She flagged how it’s everyone’s responsibility: we all have an obligation to one-another.

When looking to achieve this vision, of a strong economy and a fairer society, collaboration is the natural place to turn. We’re encouraged to see the work of the government’s Inclusive Economy Unit. And we look forward to working even more widely, with businesses, civil society and the government as we continue to encourage others to place customers at the heart of their thinking.


With the support of Nationwide, Prospect will be hosting a private round-table discussion at the 2017 Conservative Party Conference on how trade policy and export promotion can support the successful delivery of Brexit and a local industrial strategy. Confirmed speakers include: Jon Bernstein Associate Editor, Prospect; Mandy Griffin, Director of Membership Propositions, Nationwide; Lord David Willetts, Executive Chair, Resolution Foundation; Matt Hartley, Head of Public Affairs, Money Advice Trust; Ben Page, Chief Executive, Ipsos MORI; Michael Gibbons CBE, Chairman, Elexon.

If you would like to register your interest to attend our events or to find out more about our thought leadership programmes, please email Saskia Abdoh.

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