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Feature article

The MAGPIE Programme - Money and Gambling: Practice, Insight, Evidence

In this feature article, Professor Sharon Collard gives an overview of the MAGPIE programme which is a three-year collaboration between GambleAware and the University of Bristol’s Personal Finance Research Centre to examine the role of the financial services industry in helping reduce gambling harms.

There is a strong rationale for the financial services industry to help create an environment that prevents or reduces gambling harms, given its significant reach into the population and the unique window that financial services firms have into their customers’ financial situation.

For this reason, in September 2019 GambleAware and the University of Bristol’s Personal Finance Research Centre (PFRC) launched the MAGPIE programme – short for Money and Gambling: Practice, Insight, Evidence. MAGPIE is a three-year programme to explore how the financial services industry - including banks, building societies, lenders, e-money firms, credit reference agencies, regulators and trade bodies - can help reduce gambling harms in the UK. Over the course of the three years, the University of Bristol team aims to complete six projects that will provide a comprehensive set of evidence-informed resources and bring together a ‘coalition of the willing’ that is interested and committed to gambling harm reduction. The work will also help build an evidence base in an area where currently there is a dearth of academic research.

This article describes the first two projects in the MAGPIE programme: a review of bank card gambling blockers that was published in July 2020; and a practical guide for financial services firms which is underway and due to be published in Spring 2021.

MAGPIE project 1: A blueprint for bank card gambling blockers

The first project in the MAGPIE programme was a review of bank card gambling blockers that assessed their potential to help people control their gambling and set out an evidence-informed blueprint to maximise their effectiveness. These blockers involve a bank checking – in real-time – a Merchant Category Code describing the type of business a customer is trying to pay with their debit or credit card. If the Merchant Category Code indicates the business is related to gambling, and the customer has activated their bank card blocker, then the payment should be declined. The review collected evidence from several different sources: bank data on customer use of blockers; discussions with treatment providers, firms and regulatory bodies; and insights from over 100 interviews and surveys with people who had lived experience of gambling.

Blocker technology works – and should be available to all card users

The evidence showed that bank card gambling blockers can help people control their gambling spend but they need to be much more widely available. While eight UK financial firms offer gambling blocks as standard to customers with a credit or debit card, as many as 28 million personal current accounts and 35 million credit cards may not have this option. The review therefore recommended that blockers should be a standard feature available to all card holders across a firm’s full card range. It also highlighted that more needs to be done to make sure people know about bank card gambling blocks. In an online survey conducted by the University of Bristol team, nearly half of participants (43%) – many of whom were receiving treatment and support for their gambling – were not aware that bank gambling blocks existed.

Blockers should be a lock not a light switch

The review found that the design of bank card blockers is also critical to their effectiveness. Some blockers can be toggled on and off by customers at will – making them a light switch rather than a lock. The review concluded that a time-released lock of at least 48 hours should be a standard feature on all blockers. Since the review was published in July 2020, some banks have modified their bank card gambling blocks to increase the cooling off period between a customer turning off the block and being able to gamble. To complement gambling blockers on cards, the review proposed that banks give customers the option to limit their ATM withdrawals. A ‘third line of defence’ could be the option to block cash transfers from a credit card to an account where the money could be used to gamble.

MAGPIE project 2: Understanding gambling harm - a practical guide for financial services

A common theme in the first year of the MAGPIE programme was a desire among people with lived experience of gambling harm for financial services firms and other professionals to develop a better understanding of gambling disorder and gambling harm. The second MAGPIE project therefore aims to produce a practical guide for financial services on understanding gambling disorder and gambling harm, with a focus on lenders, debt collection staff and debt advisers. Informed by the Financial Conduct Authority’s proposed guidance on the fair treatment of vulnerable customers, the project is using qualitative research with financial services staff and people affected by gambling to:

  • Develop personas that bring to life the different ways in which gambling can impact people's lives and what that means in terms of their personal finances and wellbeing more generally.
  • Explore the skills, capabilities, tools and resources that can help financial services staff to support people affected by gambling.
  • Consider practical actions to support people affected by gambling, e.g. related to product design, customer service and communications.

The practical guide is due to be published in Spring 2020.

You can find out more about the MAGPIE Programme here: https://magpie.blogs.bristol.ac.uk/ or email Professor Sharon Collard: sharon.collard@bristol.ac.uk

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