Ireland’s five main banks have agreed to establish a common commitment of care for bereaved customers.

The common commitment of care is the first collaborative announcement by the Irish Banking Culture Board (IBCB), which was established to improve culture across the banking sector.

Collectively, these five banks – Bank of Ireland, AIB, KBC, Permanent TSB and Ulster Bank – assist around 50,000 bereaved customers per annum, making this an issue impacting thousands of people and their families every year.

“Losing a loved one is a traumatic event in anyone’s life, and banks should work to ensure they help those who are grieving as much as possible”

The commitment of care includes: a dedicated phone line in each bank for bereaved customers and access to any available funds of the deceased to cover the cost of the funeral. The banks are also committed to using plain English, making information on services available easily accessible, and suppressing marketing materials addressed to the deceased as quickly as possible. The banks will review their processes for dealing with bereaved customers on an ongoing basis to ensure they are offering the best service to customers at this difficult time.

Empathy and sensitive communication

Through the extensive consultation process the IBCB conducted with both the public and bank stakeholders, they found that dealing with banks after the loss of a loved one was a major source of stress and anxiety for many, at what is an already extremely difficult time.

This message was reinforced through additional consultation sessions with third parties such as MABS and the Citizens Information Service. The IBCB also held collaborative sessions with the five-member banks to learn about the existing services they provide to bereaved customers. Despite the attention given to this topic by each of the five banks over the last number of years, feedback obtained through the IBCB consultation highlighted that there was a low level of awareness in relation to the existing support services available from banks.

“As a board, we aim to embed ethical behaviour in banking culture across Ireland, the chair of the IBCB Mr Justice Hedigan said.

“Support for bereaved customers was a frequent topic brought up during our consultations with the public, and the IBCB has acted on this information to deliver this common commitment of care. Losing a loved one is a traumatic event in anyone’s life, and banks should work to ensure they help those who are grieving as much as possible.”

IBCB board member Padraic Kissane, said: “I see through my own office; this is something that affects people every day. We believe that the common commitment of care will have a real and positive impact for those bank customers, and their families, that need to engage with their bank as a result of a bereavement.”

The Irish Hospice Foundation (IHF), the only national charity dedicated to death, dying and bereavement, has welcomed the common commitment of care.

The Irish Hospice Foundation’s chief executive Sharon Foley said: “Our work with bereaved people, bereavement organisations and health professionals across Ireland tells us there is room for improvement in how different utility and financial services respond to bereaved customers.

“Empathy and prompt, sensitive communication are key and this systematic approach will help staff to better support bereaved customers all over Ireland. The IHF, with bereavement care providers across Ireland, has developed a Bereavement Care Model which highlights the importance of community and information supports such as this. The IBCB member banks are leading the way and we urge others to follow.”

As part of its work on this sensitive matter, the IBCB have become aware of a wider societal issue regarding the importance of preparing one’s financial affairs in a proactive manner. This includes making a will and putting in place arrangements to give next-of-kin the ability to manage financial affairs in the event of diminished capacity or serious illness.

The IBCB said it will contribute to addressing this issue while focusing further on financial education in the coming months, through engagement and collaboration with other relevant stakeholders and industry bodies.

Main image: Simeon Muller on Unsplash

Written by John Kennedy (john.kennedy3@boi.com)

Published: 22 October, 2019

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