What is the Helping Hand Programme?

In 2017 we launched our vulnerable customer policy and Helping Hand programme, to help us gain a deeper understanding into what we could do to support our most vulnerable members. The COVID-19 pandemic has seen an increase in the scale and extent of vulnerable circumstances members are facing - with both financial and mental wellbeing under pressure. This has placed a greater responsibility on us to support members even more through these increasingly difficult times. Watch the video below of our Vulnerable Customer Manager, Riffat Tufail, talking in January 2021 about some of our recent Helping Hand initiatives.

My name is Riffat Tufail and I am the Vulnerable Customer Manager.

I lead a team within Customer Operations to support our members when they find themselves in vulnerable circumstances.

As you can imagine during COVID and the ongoing pandemic, that we're all experiencing, sadly more and more of our customers and our members are finding themselves facing challenging situations like redundancy, or financial hardship - and I'm really proud as to how we've stepped up within Standard Life to support these members.

Some of the ways we've been doing this is we ensured that our Helping Hand Champions, who are our vulnerable customer champions within operations, received extra training in 2020. An additional 13 hours in fact, including some specialist training from the Samaritans about how to handle difficult conversations. We also created a financial hardship conversation guide in conjunction with Cowry, who are behavioural psychologist specialists, and that again ensures that we're having the best conversations with members when they contact us about these scenarios.

For customers, we've been working hard to ensure that they are protected from scams, so we introduced stop and think wording across our customer platforms. We also prioritise service for key workers and NHS staff. And finally we're making a difference by ensuring that if somebody needs money the same day or they need a faster money out payment that we're able to arrange that and help them in that moment that matters. so this year I'm continuing to focus on supporting customers who are impacted by the pandemic and also making sure that our colleagues are supported because these aren't easy conversations to have.

But I'm really excited as well about our wider program that we're going to be delivering in 2021 and also I hope that we are able to connect a bit more in 2021 because we're all missing that face-to-face interaction.

We are delighted to be working with our charity partner, Samaritans. Partnering with Samaritans gives us a wonderful opportunity to learn more from their vast experience of mental health and wellbeing to help us better support members.

Proud winners of the Customer Contact Association award for the most effective Vulnerable Customer strategy 2022.

The key principles of our internal Helping Hand framework

Our six key Helping Hand principles have been designed in order to ensure we maintain a strong focus on understanding the evolving needs of members. They provide an internal framework for us to adhere to when supporting vulnerability and are continually reviewed to identify any opportunities for improvement.


Our propositions are designed to include the needs of vulnerable members and are accessible to all.


We recognise when members need additional support and are equipped to create a safe space for disclosure.


We show empathy and flexibility in the ways we support members, as individual needs will be different.


We ask members if we can record the details they share when they interact with us, so they only need to tell us once.


We continually check that we are meeting the needs of members who are in vulnerable situations.


We’re attentive to our colleagues and recognise they need to be supported in order to best serve members.

The main drivers of vulnerability

In July 2020 we commissioned research to look more closely at the main drivers and characteristics of vulnerability outlined by the FCA, and help us gain a deeper understanding into the nature and extent of vulnerabilities amongst members. These four key drivers provide a useful lens into the scale of vulnerability.

Our recent Helping Hand initiatives:

We aim to create a safe space to encourage members to speak up and seek additional help when they need it. Throughout the pandemic we have implemented a number of initiatives to increase support for members.

MEMBER SUPPORT – We’ve created a dedicated support page for any members experiencing financial difficulties. We keep this regularly updated to ensure the right support is there for them when they need it.

COMMUNICATION MATERIALS - We created a new Here to help leaflet which we send to members whenever we feel they would appreciate extra support.

Insight has confirmed the leaflet has been found to be supportive and appropriate for members. The language and tone used, such as ‘here to help’ and ‘helping hand’ were more inclusive and less negative than using ‘vulnerable’ terminology. Work is underway to create further material to support members with challenges such as financial hardship, bereavement and ill health.

CASE STUDIES - We’ve created an additional support page on the member dashboard to help members manage their changing circumstances. It provides useful case studies

and further support relevant to a number of vulnerabilities, such as difficulty understanding financial options, health conditions, change of financial situation and barriers to communication.

ADDITIONAL TRAINING - We’ve upskilled a number of Helping Hand Champions throughout our Customer Operations department,

so members can get the right support when they need it. This has involved over 13 hours of additional training, including training from the Samaritans about how to handle difficult conversations and Cowry Consulting, behavioural science experts. We’ve also created an internal financial hardship conversation guide to ensure we’re having the best conversations with members.

PROTECTION FROM SCAMS - To protect members from scams, we introduced new features like ‘Stop and think’ wording

on customer platforms to make them aware of the risk of scams before proceeding with their pension requests.

PRIORITY SERVICE - In order to support frontline workers, we offer priority access via our secure messaging service for members of NHS pension schemes.

We’ve set up a dedicated queue within our workplace operations teams to prioritise any secure messages from members of NHS workplace schemes. As at 30 April 2021, we’d responded to 881 secure messages from members of NHS workplace pensions and have maintained a 97% success rate since 1 April 2020, by responding to all secure messages within a 1 working day SLA.

FASTER PAYMENTS - To help members who’ve been made vulnerable due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve implemented faster money out payments, to help them in the moment that matters.

SECURE MESSAGING FUNCTION – We’ve implemented Secure Messaging functionality for members who wish to interact with us online.

This allows members to contact us securely, including outside our current business hours, at a time convenient to them. We are seeing a significant increase in this channel of communication and we are dedicating more resource to this channel to make it as effective and efficient as possible for our members.


Conditions or illnesses that affect people’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities.

Life events

Major life events such as bereavement, job loss or relationship breakdown.

Financial resilience

Low ability to withstand financial or emotional shock.

Financial capability

Low financial understanding or low confidence in managing money.


of customers across the group displayed one or more characteristics that could signal potential vulnerability


of our customers displayed lower financial capability

Our continued focus

Now more than ever, we must continue to deliver high levels of service for all members. We’re committed to continually optimising our processes and systems so that no matter where our colleagues are working from, we’re prepared professionally and personally to support and service members in the best possible ways.

We’ll continue to develop innovative solutions to provide help and support, in ways that matter the most to members and we’re taking our learnings from programmes that we have trialled throughout 2020, to continually refine the member experience.