New Barclays App Features Could Help to Protect Vulnerable Punters

Two hands holding mobile phone with Mobile banking word and icons

Barclays has announced that new features in its app may curb the effect that gambling can have on the vulnerable by blocking online transactions.

Not the first

Barclay’s is not the first financial institution to offer the scheme. Online banks such as Monzo and Starling already have this feature. But the adoption of such an app by a large bank has undoubtedly drawn the spotlight.

Catherine McGrath, managing director at Barclays, said: “We are always looking for new ways to support our customers and make it easier for them to manage their finances. We work with a range of advisors and partners, as well as consulting with our customers, to identify how our customers’ needs are changing and what works for them.

“This new control feature is the latest new service that we have introduced in the Barclays Mobile Banking app that aims to give all of our customers a better way to manage their money in a simple, secure and effective way.”

How will it work?

Interestingly, gambling (which includes both websites and betting shops) hasn’t been singled out here. Users can just as easily block payments from categories such as:

• Groceries and supermarkets
• Restaurants, takeaways, pubs, and bars
• Petrol and diesel
• Premium rate websites and phone lines

The bank said the tool was developed with “customers in vulnerable circumstances in mind” and will allow people to choose which type of retailers they can shop with.

If the customer tries to make a payment that falls within a “turned off” category, it will automatically be declined, whether it’s made online, over the phone, or by using the card in stores.

Advice on the app came from various sources, including the Money Advice Trust, and although it was initially planned to make the features opt-in, money saving expert Martin Lewis is outspoken in its favor.

All about friction

The financial guru (who has long been campaigning on the issue) said:

“Making something more difficult to do slows people down and gives time to consider. This is important when you’re dealing with impulse control. It has long been used in other sectors, e.g. blocking pharmacies selling people more than 32 paracetamols, makes it more difficult for someone to buy enough to overdose. Of course, people can go to more than one store, but the conscious act of having to do that because people are trying to prevent it is a barrier.

“With blocking gambling transactions (or premium phone lines as Barclays also allows) on a card, the fact you chose to do it, adds an emotional significance to working around it — i.e., you’ve committed to not gambling, and now you’re changing. So friction is just as much a behavioral blocker as a transactional one. It isn’t perfect. It won’t stop everything, yet hopefully, it is another tool to help people control themselves. And my hope is others banks will follow suit.”

Chris Fitch at the Money Advice Trust said: “Technology that meets everyday banking needs while recognizing the challenges many of us face in our lives is the way forward. Giving everyone more control is the key to achieving this – whether this is someone who wants to be less vulnerable to fraud, or a customer who is trying to take charge of their gambling.”

Paving the way

They both appear to be right; Barclays is just the first high street bank of many to offer this service.

HSBC, Nationwide, and Santander all told The Sun that this is something they’re looking to do shortly. Lloyds Banking Group and RBS said that they don’t have this functionality at present.

But Lewis, in particular, wants the app to go even further, like Monzo, which makes a customer wait 48 hours after turning the category back on, so there can be no impulse shopping.

Right now, for those looking to take advantage of the new Barclay’s app features, debit card customers can activate and deactivate any spending bans via the mobile banking app, using its phone service and in branch – but be warned, you can’t do this via your online banking.