George Floyd and a fragmented Britain

This opinion piece by Flora Vieites examines the recent events in the Black Lives Matter protests and the financial inequality that exists in Britain for minority ethnic groups, and asks: what can financial institutions do to play their part?

The author(s)

  • Flora Vieites Divisional Director, FRS
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I hardly ever write blogs, and perhaps this is a self-indulgent version of ‘Dear Diary…’, but today I felt the need to. It’s an emotive topic and my thoughts, like those of many others, have been sparked by George Floyd’s death. Several hundred thousand people have come forward, marched and protested to show solidarity or to highlight where inequality and injustice continue to exist.

The backdrop of COVID-19 has intensified some of the disparities in our society. While the epicentre of the recent events may be happening in the US, make no mistake, Britain has fissures which will become clearer still as we deal with the financial aftermath of the pandemic coupled with a messy Brexit.

Michael Johnson, the four-time Olympic gold-medallist and BBC pundit described the atmosphere well:

This is not only black people, this is everyone who understands and appreciates fairness; they’re fed up. They’re demanding change …  I’m hopeful that change truly does come, but that’s going to take time.

I’m very fortunate that I hold a position at an organisation such as Ipsos MORI which cherishes diversity and inclusion, and is willing to stand up for those values. However, as part of the day job I am also all too aware from the data that I analyse, that inequality does exist in our society.

From Ipsos’ Financial Research Survey (FRS), we know that a substantially lower proportion of those from ethnic minority groups currently contribute to a pension (44% cf.55% GB) or hold investments (15% cf. 17% GB), and are more likely to fall under the FCA’s definition of ‘potentially vulnerable’ due to having lower levels of ‘financial resilience’ (32% cf. 27% GB) – by which I mean find their finances are a heavy burden or they find themselves regularly having to use an overdraft to make ends meet.

Sadly, I would like to be able to say that this is where the story ends, but it doesn’t. The gender pay gap continues and this year, due to COVID-19, the requirement to declare current differences between the genders has been dropped. Another blow for an act that first came into existence in the 1970’s to ensure equal pay and where reporting and measurement on how companies perform was introduce relatively recently in 2017, and sadly highlighted the continued gulf of inequality.

That said, inequality in our society is not solely confined to those who are lower paid. For females and males earning an above-average salary of £50k per annum, females are likely to have half the amount in a savings pot when compared to their male counterpart (again from FRS data). Women are more likely to pick up the additional item costs for the household (top-up basket shopping), and additional spend on childcare incidentals such as pocket money, etc. Thus, this equates to fewer funds, and a less secure future in retirement – ergo inequality.

The Chinese word for 'crisis' is frequently translated in the western world as being composed of two Chinese characters signifying ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’, respectively. COVID-19 provides us with an opportunity. An opportunity for change. An opportunity to re-evaluate and an opportunity to rebalance.

A lot of what I have already mentioned is not ‘new news’. We all know these imbalances exist. At a time when brands are being challenged to be agile and move in line with the developing changes, this provides an opportunity to provide the ‘Next Normal’.  An amended view of the future. Brands will need to not only review new behaviours, they will also need to review changing attitudes and societal norms. The FCA’s requirement of 'Treating Customers Fairly' may well take on a whole new meaning.

I hope that as a collective we can move things further. The fact that inequality and racism continue in our society is something that we all need to take responsibility for and act upon. I’m also ever-hopeful that government and financial institutions will continue to right these wrongs with regulation and new product development to enable change. Again, the mantra that started with the death of Caroline Flack, ‘Be Kind’, will gain even greater momentum and meaning for both society and brands as we enter the 'Next Normal'.

The author(s)

  • Flora Vieites Divisional Director, FRS

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