Demystifying affordability part three: Convenience, privacy and civil liberties

| By Daniel O'Boyle
In this three-part series, Sonny Cott – operations manager for affordability solutions provider BeBettor – explains one of the most important topics for gambling operators in 2021: affordability.

The previous article in the ‘Demystifying Affordability’ series focused on automation and how operators can implement a layered approach when addressing affordability. It clarified the distinction between initial automated affordability assessments, consisting of non-intrusive, frictionless checks and enhanced affordability assessments that require additional, sensitive information from the customer.

This final article of the series will consider affordability from the customer’s perspective. This means balancing what would be considered to be a convenient and justified way of assessing affordability at different stages in the customer journey and what could be deemed to be overly intrusive and an infringement on civil liberties.

Focusing on the customer

Both the Gambling Commission and operators have placed great emphasis on the importance of putting the consumer at the heart of what they do.

The Commission has consistently spoken about promoting and protecting the customer’s interests in regulation. In recent times, operators have echoed this customer-first sentiment, focusing on improving the customer experience and embracing social responsibility through responsible gaming initiatives, to ensure long term sustainability of the industry.

Therefore in the context of affordability, it’s important to consider the customer’s perspective, in terms of convenience and privacy. From the customer’s point of view, what are the best methods of assessing affordability to ensure protected play that is tailored to the individual?

Convenience for the customer

Over the years, operators have endeavoured to improve the customer experience in a number of different ways.

While there are many instances where friction is necessary throughout the customer journey, one area operators have looked to improve is the removal of unnecessary friction that worsens the user experience.

When considering how to reduce friction in affordability, it’s once again important to adopt a layered approach, as outlined in part two of the series.

Initial affordability assessments that use non-intrusive affordability checks can be conducted seamlessly in the background with no disruption to the customer. This gives operators the ability to gauge a player’s affordability, which can inform customer interactions that are tailored to the individual.

These assessments require no additional information from the customer, making them highly convenient and suited to early stages in the customer journey.

Enhanced assessments in some cases will require the customer to provide additional information that can be both highly sensitive and inconvenient to provide.

Source of Funds (SOF) & Source of Wealth (SOW) checks can require customers to provide historical financial documents (such as bank statements, payslips or P60s) which can be both intrusive on the customer’s privacy and time consuming.

These checks typically have relatively low opt-in rates from customers, therefore using these enhanced checks at early stages in the customer journey could be seen as too intrusive and customers may choose not to divulge sensitive financial information at this stage.

However, enhanced assessments are a vital part of a layered approach to affordability and should be used when a customer’s risk increases. These enhanced assessments are more understandable from the customer’s perspective if they’re used to ascertain whether an individual can afford high levels of spend.

Customer privacy

Alongside considering the convenience of the customer when addressing affordability, it’s also important to take into account their privacy, whether this be the sense of the level of intrusion being appropriate to the risk of harm, or more generally in avoiding the feeling of a “Big Brother” approach.

Given modern sensitivities around data security and sharing of sensitive data, as well as the risk of improper use of such data by an industry that has historically struggled with trust, measures need to be appropriate to the risk presented and stage of the customer journey.

Initial affordability assessments that use non-intrusive checks based on combining personal data (which the operator already holds) and open data to screen for vulnerability are designed to be minimally intrusive and can be conducted in the background without disrupting the customer.

For customers who require additional assessment, enhanced affordability checks provide an important layer of protection, to ensure they can afford a certain level of spend. These checks are designed as a handbrake to pause the individual’s play until a time at which there is evidence, via financial documentation, that they can afford their level of gambling spend. Enhanced assessments require more intrusion on the customer’s privacy, yet are a necessary step to ensure the customer is protected.

Data protection and consent

Under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), all parties responsible for using personal data have to follow strict rules called data protection principles. These are to ensure information is used fairly, lawfully and transparently.

In the context of affordability, operators are permitted to process their customer’s personal data via consent which is obtained through the operator’s terms and conditions or privacy policy. However, operators typically use a number of third-party suppliers in order to deliver their services and in many cases use suppliers to aid in assessing an individual’s affordability.

Depending on whether an operator wants to conduct an initial or enhanced affordability assessment, and any potential marks left behind, the data and therefore required consent may change. Enhanced checks will likely require additional consent from the customer.

Initial affordability assessments that use open data can be conducted seamlessly in the background without requiring additional data or consent from the customer, beyond that which is contained in the operator’s privacy policy. If operators use a third party supplier to conduct these checks, the third party supplier is able to do so under the lawful basis of legitimate interest.

For example, beBettor combines personal and open data, as well as screening against derogatory data sets, to provide operators with frictionless assessments of affordability for their customers, delivered as a discretionary income estimate.

However, some enhanced affordability assessments require additional, highly sensitive data from the customer. Open banking is an example of a tool that can assist operators with enhanced affordability assessments. It gives operators access to financial information by providing oversight of a customer’s current accounts for 90 days. Due to the sensitive nature of the financial data the operator has access to, additional and repeated customer consent is required. As such, enhanced affordability measures such as open banking are often used only when needed most.

Civil liberties of the customer

The Gambling Commission endeavours to put the consumer at the heart of regulation. While affordability as a topic may require additional data and evidence to conclude that an individual can afford a certain level of spend, at times, this may infringe on an individual’s freedom to gamble at the level they desire.

However, it does so to ensure protection of the customer from experiencing financial harm.

Affordability is a relative concept, as highlighted by the House of Lords Select Committee report on Gambling Harm, showing the importance of a tailored approach: “What can be an enormous sum and totally unaffordable for most people is, for some, small change”.

As such, individuals will require limits and protections set relative to their personal circumstances, with the consequences of a universal or blanket approach to be felt in reduced civil liberty.

On the other end of the spectrum, operators are required to deliver their service responsibly and do so by identifying those who may be vulnerable to experiencing harm and apply suitable protections at different stages in the customer journey.

Striking the right balance between applying suitable protections for customers continuously throughout the customer journey while minimising the infringement on customer privacy and civil liberties, is ultimately the challenge when addressing affordability.

It is for operators to create sustainable affordability frameworks that are able to manage this challenge but we are confident this balance can be found.

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