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  • Robert Bell

CARE and BRUCE Protocols

In our last few articles, we’ve looked at how to use conversation techniques to help staff broach the subject of support with potentially vulnerable customers, and how protocols can be used to help guide conversations towards the compliant recording of sensitive personal data. This week we’re going to be taking a look at using protocols that can help frontline staff assess whether the customer is likely to be vulnerable and whether lack of mental capacity might be an issue.

Man with headset in call centre
CARE and BRUCE protocols

The role played by staff in supporting vulnerable customers is one that the FCA is keen to impress on firms. Both the proposed guidance, and a recent speech by Nisha Arora, Director of Consumer and Retail Policy at the FCA, delivered at the TISA Vulnerability Conference, highlight the vital roles that all staff can play. This is the case from the top-down – management can ensure that flexibility is built into processes so that customers’ individual needs can be best supported, and those that design products should have a clear awareness of the probable needs of their customer base so that they can be embedded into the product from design stage. Frontline staff play an extremely important role in early identification of individual customers, and this can make a huge difference in customer experience and outcomes.

Where a customer or a situation is new, or the issue has simply never been picked up on before in the firm, the first clue that someone might need some extra support can come from ‘red flags’ or indicators in their speech – saying, for example, that they’ve had a difficult time of it lately because they’ve lost their job, or have been dealing with a new health problem which has led to some difficulties in managing their money. Sometimes it’s less obvious, say when someone’s speech is slurred, or not seeming quite ‘present’ in the conversation.

The one thing we cannot do when it comes to identifying vulnerable customers is make an assumption. We might have an idea that there could be an issue, but assuming that confusion or the way someone is speaking is due to a particular condition can actually hinder both the conversation and therefore collection of evidence, and finding the right solution for the customer. Equally, assuming that someone isn’t vulnerable because they don’t appear to have any of the ‘usual’ signs of vulnerability could mean that staff fail to pick up on indicators that someone is vulnerable due to a less obvious type, for example, a lack of literacy or numeracy skills.

To help guide conversations, staff can draw upon a number of protocols. The ‘TEXAS’ protocol is fairly well known in financial services. The ‘CARE’ and ‘BRUCE’ protocols use the same principles to provide a framework for building a clearer picture about whether the customer might be vulnerable, and whether the customer might be experiencing difficulties with understanding or decision making.

‘CARE’ is particularly useful where capacity isn’t the main issue, but an underlying condition is leading to problems in following or keeping up with the conversation. It stands for:

Comprehend – is the customer able to follow the conversation and understand what is being said?

Assess – is the customer able to weigh up the information?

Retain – is the customer able to retain and remember information, and recall this at a later point?

Evaluate – is the customer able to explain and communicate their decisions?

At each of these stages in the conversation, staff should ask themselves the questions above, which provide a useful guide about the types of questions that might be appropriate to assess whether the customer is or might be vulnerable. It’s also useful for staff to get in the right mindset for the conversation, by placing the customer at the core of our thinking. Using a framework and avoiding the use of rote questions will keep the conversation natural, which will in turn help the customer feel more at ease – critical when we’re trying to get people to be open about very personal things. If, following the ‘CARE’ protocol, there remains a question about the customer’s current situation, staff should move on to starting a conversation about the customer’s current situation.

The ‘BRUCE’ protocol can be used where there’s a question around capacity issues, and is based around the Mental Capacity Act 2005, which states that a person is unable to make a decision if they cannot understand related information, retain and weigh up that information as part of a decision making process, or cannot communicate their decision.

Finding out whether a customer has a limitation or lacks capacity is crucial – we need to establish whether it exists and not assume it, because this can lead to suggesting the wrong solution for the customer.

‘BRUCE’ stands for:

Behaviour & Talk – are there any clues in the customer’s speech and behaviour?

Remembering – are there any signs that the customer has difficulty with recall?

Understanding – are there any signs that the customer is having difficulty understanding the information you are giving them?

Communication- is the customer able to communicate what they think, their decision and any questions?

Evaluation – is the customer finding it difficult to weigh up all of the information?

We need to bear in mind that capacity isn’t a set-in-stone thing either. It can fluctuate, so if a customer has experienced capacity issues before, that doesn’t mean that they will have the same capacity issue now. And capacity issues can have a number of underlying reasons that might affect the choice of available solutions, including drug or alcohol use, dementia, a brain injury, or even the side effects of medication. But even if someone has one of these conditions, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they lack the capacity to make a decision. If there is any doubt, the BRUCE protocol can help us to evaluate whether the customer is currently experiencing capacity issues.


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