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Preparing for vulnerability

How industries can protect (in real time) consumers experiencing hard times

In 2022 we expect the impact of lockdowns, quarantine and social isolation will continue to be felt, with more consumers potentially experiencing greater vulnerabilities.  In order to prepare for the new year (and new normal), organisations should enhance their consideration and preparedness of vulnerability within their own business and of their consumers.

As 2022 commences, many industries are breathing a sigh of relief after several complex and comprehensive regulatory reforms have gone live while organisations are continuing to manage the impact of COVID. During this period of reflection, and whilst planning work schedules and priorities for 2022, it is important for organisations to plan their programs of work with a vulnerable consumer lens.  In late 2021, the Independent Review of the Banking Code of Practice released its final report (the Report). The Report focused on how important it was for banking institutions to effectively identify, monitor and protect consumers experiencing vulnerability, including those under-recognised in our community, to create inclusive and accessible banking. The Report presented several recommendations to improve the Banking Code of Practice (the Code) and outlined implications for the Code from recent regulatory reforms. While the Code applies to banking institutions, some recommendations are industry agnostic and appropriate for the broader financial services sector to consider.

To aid organisations as they prepare for 2022, we explore below -

  1. the key takeaways from the Report; and
  2. the no-regret activities that organisations can commence now to address some of the challenges to protecting and supporting consumers experiencing vulnerability.



In July 2021, Mike Callaghan was engaged by the Australian Banking Association (ABA) to conduct an independent review of the Code as required every three years. Mr Callaghan was asked to assess whether the Code (1) contributes to inclusive, affordable and accessible banking services for all consumers, (2) meets consumer and community standards; and (3) effectively ensures consumers are aware of basic, low and no fee accounts. The Report presented several recommendations1 as to how the Code, and industry, may be improved for vulnerable consumers. The below table details some of the recommendations.

The Report recommends several updates to the Code, and to the banking industry generally, to better identify, manage, monitor and protect consumers experiencing vulnerability in the community. The Report does not identify the challenges that organisations may encounter when addressing the proposed improvements, nor present any strategies for how to dynamically address the present difficulties. For example, how will organisations proactively identify consumers experiencing vulnerability while obeying legal principles related to privacy and consent without displaying prejudice? Industry bodies, regulators and legislators will need to be pragmatic about the way these rules will be drafted and implemented to ensure the change is positive and impactful for society.

In our previous blog we explored three key areas of challenge that all organisations may face in relation to managing and embedding fair treatment of vulnerable consumers. These challenges are outlined in the below diagram.

We believe once these three primary areas have been considered, organisations will be ready to review, update and embed changes to the ways they identify, manage, monitor and protect consumers experiencing vulnerability.

In the following section, we consider some potential solutions to these challenges including no regrets activities that organisations can begin based on the recommendations in the Report.

As the ABA and other organisations work through the Report recommendations, organisations can proactively take steps to manage and embed the fair treatment of vulnerable consumers within their business now. Below are a few key no-regrets activities organisations can get started on to uplift their vulnerable consumer framework and approach, including how we can support.

Next steps

As 2022 commences, many industries are breathing a sigh of relief after several complex and comprehensive regulatory reforms have gone live. During this period of reflection however, it is important for organisations to plan their programs of work with a vulnerable consumer lens. It can be useful to look to the FCA’s guidance and United Kingdom model, where many organisations have effectively embedded vulnerability considerations across the value chain, rather than as a standalone concept.

We believe organisations that prepare now, and establish their business so consumers experiencing vulnerability are treated fairly, will be ready when recommendations in the Report are implemented in the Code and across the industry. More broadly, any organisation that considers what to pack will be in a better position when the journey begins to change the way Australian businesses approach consumers experiencing vulnerability.

If you would like to know more about how the Report could affect your organisation, or how to commence the above no-regrets activities, please contact us.

In our next blog we will explore further how organisations can identify, monitor, manage and support consumers experiencing vulnerability using data.