One in seven adults in the UK is at risk of being financially excluded.
Globally, 1.7 billion people are unbanked, which means they don’t have an account at a financial institution or through a mobile money provider. Of these, 55% are women. These stats are nothing short of terrifying, but they are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to financial exclusion.
The ‘unbanked’ term also encompasses those who use alternative and less preferable financial services, such as payday loans or delayed payment services such as Klarna. It is important to note, too, that ethnically diverse founders don’t get as much backing as their white counterparts and, of course, the huge discrepancies that exist when it comes to pensions.
To start tackling this colossal issue, financial institutions need to take a long, hard look at how they are providing for and looking out for people both within and outside of their organisations.
‘We think about society in every decision we make as a bank and as an employer,’ says Mouhammed Choukeir (pictured below), CEO of SG Kleinwort Hambros Bank.
‘It’s not about what’s best for us any more, it’s about what’s best for everyone.’
First and foremost, financial institutions must ask themselves if they are serving all parts of the population equally. To do this, they need to understand where the biases currently exist. Do they have precise knowledge of, for example, the extent to which female founders struggle to secure funds? Do they understand the socio-economic vulnerabilities of ethnic minorities, and do they have a general overview of the broader discriminations that sadly continue to permeate our society?
The next step is examining how their organisation is made up and how their employees feel being there. TV presenter June Sarpong once said to me that it’s about looking around the table and knowing that if everyone isn’t represented with a seat there, then something needs to change. Even more than that, everyone at that table needs to feel they have an equal chance of succeeding.
‘Diversity is one thing, but inclusion is something else entirely,’ says Choukeir.
‘I like to think of it this way: diversity is the “what” and inclusion is the “how”. Yes, we can make sure our workforce has a balanced representation of genders, ethnicities, sexual orientations, ages and many more diversity forms, but inclusion is so much more than that. Inclusion is about galvanising a whole range of diverse voices and identities as well as doing everything we can to help everyone – internally and externally – to thrive.
‘Over my career I have come to realise the importance of colleagues as our key stakeholders. They are more vital to us than we are to them. This is why it’s imperative we make sure that not only do they feel comfortable speaking out and asking for what they need, but that we are listening and show that we are.’
People like us
When individuals are making decisions about who to work and bank with, they want to see people like them represented in terms of women, diversity and different backgrounds. Financial institutions must have balance, which is integral to remaining current and attractive.
It is also vital that they identify the barriers to financial inclusion and remove them. We know that men are more likely to ask for a pay rise than women are, for example. Are institutions keeping that front of mind and countering it? Do they understand the factors that vulnerable people face, and are they able to offer trusted advice around them? Are they backing, educating and empowering female founders? In terms of the next generation, what part are they doing in terms of supporting the financial education of children, and do they have enough diverse role models in their organisation?
This is a momentous task and it is a problem that is not going to go away overnight. But on the flipside, there’s an array of ways banks can tackle the issue of financial exclusion. It is not a case of there being one prescribed route. Instead, financial institutions can look to and leverage their existing strengths and networks to find a way to contribute to this much-needed cause.
As the old adage goes, with great power comes great responsibility. It is time for financial institutions to rise up and be the change.