10 November 2016
Most consumers use the internet without difficulty to access essential services such as banking and insurance. However, between 10 and 15 per cent of consumers are unable to do so. A study by the FCCA shows that, although digitalisation improves customer service and saves money for both businesses and consumers, it also places increasing responsibility on consumers’ shoulders when it comes to different forms of customer service.
Digitalisation has also increased the use of electronic customer service channels for essential services that consumers cannot live without. These kinds of services include, among others, everyday banking, insurance services, mobile telephone contracts and electricity supply.
Although most customers use e-services on a daily basis, between approximately 10 and 15 per cent of consumers are unable to use them. Some do not have the necessary skills, and others are prevented by poor health. Moreover, not everyone has the means to purchase an internet connection and the required equipment. In some areas, access to the internet may be hampered by poor network coverage. Furthermore, a sudden change in a person’s health can render anyone temporarily unable to use e-services.
According to the FCCA’s study, consumers who do not use e-services are disadvantaged compared to other customers. They are often forced to pay more for customer services than those consumers who are able to use online services. As the number of physical customer service points decreases, they may need to travel longer distances to get service, which results in more costs and wastes time. Also, not being able to use the internet often means not getting as much information about essential services as others.
Many consumers are also prevented from using e-services because they lack the tools needed for electronic authentication, such as an online banking ID or a mobile certificate. Consumers with a poor credit history, for example, cannot always get these kinds of IDs. Strong electronic authentication is nevertheless essential for interacting with the information society, which is why everyone should be entitled to it. The Consumer Ombudsman has also been calling attention to this issue for a long time. The problem could be alleviated to some extent by the upcoming reform of banking legislation, the increasing use of mobile certificates, and the government’s new strong electronic authentication model.
The FCCA considers it important that providers of essential services recognise the limitations of consumers when it comes to using online services and take these into consideration in their customer service policies. Equal access to customer service cannot, however, be ensured by means of self-regulation and voluntary operating models alone. The needs of different kinds of consumers also need to be factored into legislation. Regulation needs to address not just the interests of consumers but also competition between service providers in the best possible manner considering the circumstances.
Consequences of lack of access to essential e-services, FCCA Reports 6/2016 (in Finnish)
Consumer Ombudsman’s Newsletter 5/16 (thematic issue on essential services in Finnish)
Further information: Helena Tuorila, Senior Research Officer, tel. +358 29 505 3653