How Virgin Money is trying to help the UK's unbanked

Virgin Money’s mission is to make everyone better off and one person who’s working towards that is Joanna Finlay, who recently won the Chartered Banker ‘Young Banker of the Year’ award for her simple solution to improve outcomes for the unbanked. She explains more…

10 years ago I started a new role in banking, determined to make a difference. My view was, and still is, that as we can’t opt out of banking and still thrive in life – we deserve simpler and fairer choice. 10 years ago was when I joined Northern Rock. It was during the run on the bank, so not quite the start I had expected. Jump forward to 2017 and I’m now a Current Account Product Manager at Virgin Money, with a particular passion for tackling financial exclusion.

Could you live without a bank account? Two million UK adults currently do, and pay a ‘poverty premium’ of £1,300 to manage their finances without one. Not cool. At Virgin Money, our mission is to make ‘everyone better off’, and this includes those struggling without banking.

I manage the Essential Current Account, a simple, free bank account which is great for anyone who wants to take control of their finances – including those who face barriers in accessing banking. I work closely with colleagues to understand these barriers and find safe ways to help people apply, while protecting the bank from criminals. 

And that’s the problem – we need proof of name and address to be sure it’s safe to open an account, but many unbanked people don’t have standard ID documents, especially proof of address. However, I believe that if you can see what needs to change, you’re halfway to fixing it!

In January, I met charities through the Virgin Money Foundation that provide accommodation and support to previously homeless people. Getting a bank account is often the final piece of the jigsaw when it comes to getting a job, a home and moving on. With their insight, I developed a process called Trusted Partners, whereby these charities can provide us with proof of address for their residents – a simple, practical solution to help unbanked people prove where they live and access banking.

We are currently piloting this process with three charities and I hope we can roll it out to many more, to help people access banking and start to thrive.

It was about taking a stand for unbanked people and trying to win a brighter future for them

The big idea

Earlier this year, I was nominated for the Chartered Banker ‘UK Young Banker of the Year’ competition, which celebrates ideas to make banking better for customers, and more socially purposeful. I had an amazing opportunity to present my idea to influential people across the industry – to speak up for unbanked people and win more support for solutions to help them. Being a champion for the underdog is part of the Virgin spirit in me, and I was honoured to represent Virgin Money in the competition.

Even better, Ian Humphreys from Virgin Money was also in the finals this September with a brilliant proposal to help customers easily answer their questions online, improving service and reducing pressure on the contact centre. It was the first year anyone from Virgin Money had entered the competition, so to have two out of four places in the final was awesome.

For me, it was about taking a stand for unbanked people and trying to win a brighter future for them. To receive a trophy was the icing on the cake! I’ve no idea what I’ll be doing in 10 years, but I truly hope to help eliminate financial exclusion in our lifetimes.

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