Do the banks hold the key to tackling problem gambling?

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Two so-called ‘challenger banks’ are living up to their reputation. Monzo and Starling banks have introduced a block to help problem gamblers control their gambling habits. And it’s working. Now, the Gambling Commission and doctors are calling for the big five banks to follow suit. The industry, which has long called for bank intervention, is expected to drive the campaign forward.

It all started when the gaming and gambling instr. floated the idea that one of the most potent ways of tackling problem gambling would be to bring the banks on board. And now two are – both online financial institutions – whose ‘gambling block’ is making an impact.

Several thousand people, according to an investigation by the BBC’s Money Box programme, have signed up to the pioneering service offered by Monzo and Starling banks.

And the idea is gathering momentum.

The process is simple: customers sign up to the gambling block, available on the banks’ app. Once activated, gambling activity either online or in an LBO is identified through the merchant bank codes; the transaction is stopped immediately and no money leaves the account.There is a 48- hour cooling off period and daily limits on cash withdrawals.

Tom Blomfield, CEO of Monzo, is enthusiastic about the block. “We’ve… seen a 70 percent decline in gambling transactions,so [it’s made] a really big impact,”he told Radio 4.

And it’s also drawn in custom: 25,000 people have signed up to the bank’s block, although “not all of those were problem gamblers,” he explained.

Starling bank, too, has seen new customers,said to be in the region of 25,000 who have activated their own block.

The engagement of the banking system in the problem gambling arena, most recently vocalised by the gaming and gambling industry just two weeks ago, is showing a real and meaningful return. So much so, that The Gambling Commission is believed to be talking to financial institutions about how to improve protection for problem gamblers.

The Monzo and Starling ‘gambling block’ is a key indicator, and evidence, the industry will argue, of the need for a more joined up campaign to ease the pressures for people troubled by problem gambling.

And further support for this viewpoint comes from The Royal College of Psychiatrists which has singled out the big five banks – Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds, RBS Group and Santander – to offer the same service.

Talking to BBC Radio 4’s Money Box, Doctor Henrietta Bowden-Jones was pretty clinical.“If you are unable to access funds, this type of gambling block can save people’s homes and their families,” she said.

Whilst the UK’s problem gambling figures currently stand at one of the lowest in the world, and no sign of rising over the last 5 years, it appears that one initiative through the banking system could actually drive the numbers down with relative ease.

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