How HSBC made it easier for people experiencing homelessness to open bank accounts

Wunderman Thompson UK won the ‘Financial services’ category at The Drum Awards for Content 2021 with its work for HSBC UK. Here, the team behind the winning entry shares the secrets of this successful project...

The challenge

Rates of homelessness in the United Kingdom have skyrocketed in the past ten years. Figures from homelessness charity Shelter show that in 2019 at least 280,000 people were homeless, with almost 4,600 sleeping rough.

Since then, Covid-19 has inflicted enormous economic hardship on the world. In the UK alone an additional 70,000 households have been made homeless since the pandemic began, with tens of thousands more at risk.

Without a fixed address of their own, people experiencing homelessness find themselves in a lose-lose situation where not having a home makes it virtually impossible to open a bank account. Without a bank account they can’t claim benefits or store their money. Without an address and a bank account it is harder to secure a legitimate job. All of which makes it harder to find a home. It’s a vicious circle that prevents these people from re-joining society’s system.

Our brief was to help HSBC UK reconnect people experiencing homelessness back with society.

The strategy

Traditionally, banks require photo identification and proof of address to open an account. But these are documents that many people experiencing homelessness may no longer have. So, the way in which society’s financial system has been designed means that once you’ve fallen out of it, it’s incredibly hard to find your way back in.

At HSBC UK branches, people without a fixed address can now open a bank account using a participating charity’s address as their proof of identity (as long as they are accompanied by a charity caseworker). This partnership allows people experiencing homelessness to reconnect with society and helps break the cycle of financial exclusion.

To raise awareness of the service, we took to the streets using data to pinpoint locations with the highest levels of homelessness that were also in close proximity to an HSBC UK branch that offered the service.

Brand perception studies showed that people strongly associated HSBC with being global and with wealth management. In short, we were the bank for ‘wealthy foreigners.’ At the same time, our research told us that our target audience strongly value creating greater social inclusion.

The disconnect between these two things formed the basis of our approach. We needed to find a way to reframe HSBC UK’s perceived internationalism from being about geography to the values of a worldly, open and connected Britain.

The campaign

To do this, we started with one of the most vulnerable and overlooked groups in the country at the moment – people experiencing homelessness. We were demonstrating through the No Fixed Address service that HSBC UK is committed to helping everyone in the country to thrive regardless of their gender, sexuality, place of birth, social class, employment status, physical capability or living situation.

To raise awareness among those who may need the service and those who might be in a position to help, we used out-of-home (OOH) footfall data in five cities to target sites based on the rate of homelessness in the area, as well as their proximity to an HSBC UK branch that offered the No Fixed Address service.

A mix of specially-designed bus shelter vinyl wraps and disruptive fly poster formats in these areas highlighted the two types of homelessness – rough sleepers and the invisible sofa surfers (people moving from sofa to sofa) – revealing the struggles they face without access to financial services while introducing the service.

We also generated larger reach by appearing in national publications that had previously aligned themselves with homelessness causes (including The Guardian and free titles such as The Evening Standard).

The campaign ran from November 16 to December 30 2020.

What started out in two branches has spread to almost 100 nationwide – with HSBC now partnering with over 70 organizations that can act as an identity verifier. HSBC UK has laid the groundwork for a platform to encourage other big banks to embark on a similar mission.

The results

During the two-week OOH campaign, uptake of HSBC UK’s No Fixed Address bank accounts grew by 52%.

Though not a primary goal, the donations generated from the QR code helped Shelter get over 100 people off the street, with one in five scanners signing up to become regular donors.

And it has impacted positively on the brand too, contributing to positive growth in brand associations:

  • ‘HSBC UK supports the UK community’ +10% year-on-year

  • ’HSBC UK is a brand I would be proud to use’ +5% year-on-year

  • ‘HSBC UK cares about customers’ +12% year-on-year

This project was a winner at The Drum Awards for Content 2021. Click here to find out which of The Drum Awards are currently open for entry.