Would You Ask Your Bank to Switch Off Spending?


Barclays has become the first high street bank to offer a ‘switch off’ service for customers who are worried about their spending in certain categories. Similar to tools already offered by online banks such as Monzo and Starling, the ideas is that people can set spending limits for certain types of spending – gambling being a notable example. Implement the feature and your bank will cut you off if you try to overspend. For people with a gambling addiction or an addiction to shopping this could provide the support needed to help drive behavioural change. And even for those of us who only suffer from poor impulse control, this seems like an interesting way to address the problem. Better, at least, than the age old trick of freezing your credit cards in a block of ice.

How does it work?

Firstly, you’ll need to download the latest version of the Barclays app to your phone. With that installed, you should be able to access a section called ‘merchant control’. Instead of turning off individual retailers or websites, you use it to select which categories of spending are allowed on that card. The options are ‘groceries and supermarkets’, ‘gambling’, ‘premium rate websites and phone lines’, ‘restaurants, food outlets, pubs and bars’ and ‘petrol and diesel’.

At the moment, it is only available for debit cards. However, the feature is expected to eventually roll out to credit cards too. We assume that any spending not covered by the categories listed is allowed by default – and there’s no news on whether or not more categories could follow in the future.

Are other banks considering this feature?

There is no current news to suggest that other high street bank are working on implement this type of spending control, but that’s not to say it isn’t coming. With support from charities as well as financial influencers like Martin Lewis, there’s a lot of backing for this kind of tool. That means banks who want to make a competitive effort to attract new customers may see it as a way to keep their technology relevant.

Does it work?

The big question, then, is does this actually work? It’s important to recognise that the categories will only be as good as the bank’s data allows them to be: if a gambling site has slipped under the radar, for instance, then a transaction may still go through. It’s also true that you can turn spending on as well as off via the app, meaning that you could always overrule your own decision to cut off spending. Of course, that’s important because it means you always remain in control of your own money.

Despite that, there is evidence to suggest that it can be effective: Monzo have actually found spending on gambling to decrease by 70% as a result of implementing the tool.

So what do you think? Is this just another banking gimmick, or does it have the potential to genuinely change your relationship with the plastic that’s in your wallet?

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