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One example is consumer vulnerability where the Standards of Lending Practice seek to support Firms in applying a consistent approach to the provision of inclusive products and services which is embedded across all operations.This means that the products offered therefore work well for the majority of customers but which also contain sufficient flexibility to enable the needs of customers who are, or who find themselves in, a vulnerable situation to be met.Firms will achieve this: with systems and controls that are capable of identifying, across the relevant products held, where customers may be showing signs of financial stress at any point in the customer life-cycle, and pro-actively engaging with the customer to provide an appropriate solution. Firms should ensure that the product design stage takes into account internal and external risks which could impact upon a customer’s ability to maintain their repayments so that new products do not lead to unsustainable borrowing. Firms should undertake both post-launch and cyclical product reviews to ensure that their products are, and remain, fit for purpose. Firms should monitor customers’ credit card and overdraft limits to ensure that the customer is not exhibiting signs of financial stress and where relevant, offer appropriate support. Firms should ensure that customer facing employees and third parties are sufficiently trained and skilled to help them to identify and deal with those customers who may be showing signs of financial stress. Firms should undertake monitoring and assurance work to ensure that their policies and processes are designed and are operating effectively in identifying and supporting customers who are showing signs of financial stress.Customer outcome: customers in financial difficulty, or in the early stages of the collections process, will receive appropriate support and fair treatment, across the different communication channels offered, in order to help them deal with their debts in the most suitable way.Firms will achieve this: with systems and controls at product design, financial promotion and product review stages that assess product performance and ensure product information is clear, fair and not misleading. Firms should ensure that all financial promotions, across all channels, are clear, fair and not misleading.
Information provided to customers will be clear in terms of presentation and in clarifying any action that the customer needs to take.Each section contains both a ‘customer outcome’ and an overall statement of how a Firm will achieve this; both are supported by a more detailed set of standards to enable Firms to demonstrate how they achieve the desired outcome.While a number of these areas are well established within Firms, there are some newer, emerging areas where the Standards of Lending Practice help Firms in developing their approach to these.Firms will achieve this: with systems and controls that are capable of identifying and subsequently, supporting customers in financial difficulty.Firms should be able to demonstrate that a sympathetic and positive approach has been applied when considering a customer’s financial situation. Firms should have triggers and processes in place to identify customers who may be in financial difficulty and should act promptly and efficiently to address the situation with the customer. Customers identified as being in financial difficulty should be provided with clear information setting out the support available to them and should not be subject to harassment or undue pressure when discussing their problems. Firms should demonstrate an empathetic approach to the customer’s situation; listening to and acting upon information provided by the customer with a view to developing an affordable and appropriate solution. If an offer of repayment is made via the common financial statement/standard financial statement, this should be used as the basis for pro-rata distribution amongst creditors covered by the plan. Firms should have appropriate policies and procedures in place to identify and support vulnerable customers where this impacts on their ability to pay. Customers who are in financial difficulty will, where appropriate, be signposted to free, impartial debt advice. Firms should apply an appropriate level of forbearance, where, after having made contact with the customer, it is clear that this would be appropriate for their situation. Where a customer remains engaged with the Firm and maintains their repayment plan, they will not be subject to unnecessary contact. Firms should consider freezing or reducing interest and charges when a customer is in financial difficulty. All communication with the customer/their authorised third party will be undertaken in a clear and open manner, via the customer’s/third party’s preferred method of communication (where this is known, appropriate and available). Firms should take into account the customer’s circumstances and consider whether it would amount to a fair customer outcome to pursue, or to continue to pursue, the amount owed. Firms should follow a robust due diligence process when selecting third parties for debt collection or when selling a debt. Firms should ensure that when a customer’s debt is sold, the purchaser continues to apply the relevant protections provided by the Standards of Lending Practice.
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The Standards represent a move away from its predecessor, the Lending Code, which was focused more on compliance with provisions than customer outcomes.