Kiwibank deploys online gambling ‘block’ option to protect vulnerable customers

In a bid to protect vulnerable customers, New Zealand’s largest locally owned bank has announced that its customers will now be able to place a block on payments transactions to online gambling sites.

Kiwibank customers can request the ‘block’ on Visa credit or debit cards through the bank’s online service channels, contact centres, or branch network; joint account holders can request that a block is placed on either one’s own individual card and/or an additional card holder’s card.

The system, which is being deployed after a successful seven-month pilot, works by barring known merchant codes for online gambling outlets on Kiwibank debit or credit cards.

The bank said requests to apply for or to remove the block, however, could take up to two days to process.

The habit-curbing initiative was spearheaded by Kiwibank’s head of sustainability, Julia Jackson, and co-developed with customers who had requested a block option, after the lender noticed a spike in online gambling during the Covid-19 lockdown, based on in-house economists’ transactional data.

This uptick in gambling was first noted by Kiwibank’s frontline staff, who observed that some customers seeking support were also spending “tens of thousands of dollars” on gambling sites.

The pilot program, which kicked off in September 2020, aimed to test bank processes and help staff get used to facilitating sensitive conversations with customers experiencing or on the verge of financial hardship due to excessive online gambling.

In a recent statement, Kiwibank revealed that 75 per cent of customers involved in the pilot succeeded in keeping the block in place for more than three months, saving these customers an average of $10,000.

“This is a huge win in the short-term, but what it means over time is that the customer’s financial wellbeing is much more secure,” Jackson said.

When encountering at-risk customers, the bank’s frontline staff can now also make referrals to external gambling addiction support services, such as the Problem Gambling Foundation – the organisation enlisted to train the Kiwibank’s team to counsel vulnerable customers – for further assistance.

Across the ditch, Australia’s major banks, CBA, NAB, and Westpac, all offer similar optional gambling ‘blocks’ across their debit cards and credit cards options.

ANZ, on the other hand, enforces a gambling ban if credit card spending reaches 85 per cent of its limit, or if an identified transaction, once processed, would bring the balance to 85 per cent (or more) of the credit limit; there are no blocks in place for debit cards.