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The impact of stress on decision making

Understanding the lifestyles, challenges and needs of ‘vulnerable customers’ is an area in which we are increasingly being asked to help clients. Through this blog series on vulnerability, we will explain why this is important for a vast range of businesses, share our top tips for excellence and provide a spotlight on our main learnings.


When was the last time you felt stressed? Picture that moment now: where were you, how were you feeling, and what impact did it have on the choices you made?


It’s likely that you didn’t make your best decisions. Research shows that in moments of stress our brains become more reactionary and binary. In an attempt to counter anxiety and create certainty, we tend to narrow and oversimplify our options to black-and-white, all-or-nothing extremes. Limited perceived options leads to flawed decision-making.


For consumers living with a vulnerability, these moments of stress, and the impact on their decision- making, is heightened. We recently spoke to Tom who has been living with anxiety since the pandemic. Interacting with others, particularly in a more pressured situation, creates stress for Tom* and can lead him to either shut down or become overwhelmed with worry. In his own words, Tom tells us about the impact this had on his ability to make decisions when applying for a mortgage: “I can find discussing finances in a formal environment very anxiety inducing. When I first started having meetings with brokers and banks I found it so overwhelming I couldn’t take in the information I was being given. This will lead me to not make the most informed or best decision, or even a decision at all…”


We also met Julia* who told us about the stress she experienced as a vulnerable customer when buying a home. Julia’s low knowledge and confidence around financial and legal matters meant she found it difficult to digest and understand the many complex documents during the purchase process. She often became overwhelmed and anxious about the decisions she was making and admits to “burying my head in the sand and just hoping it would all work out OK”.


Some vulnerabilities lead to others. We spoke to Emma* who has experienced discrimination due to a visual impairment and as a result is now also living with an anxiety disorder. She told us how she is fearful of disclosing her disability because she feels anxious about how people might respond. She explains “being independent has been very challenging. I have experienced discrimination which led to anxiety and a reluctance to tell people about my disability. I don’t look typically ‘disabled’ which sometimes leads to people not believing me or making assumptions.”


How well do you understand the moments of stress in your customers’ journey with your business? And how might these moments be heightened for your vulnerable customers?


We’re increasingly working with clients on this so that they build the right responses to help everyone feel comfortable to make good decisions. If you’re interested in learning more, we’d love to hear from you.


*names changed for confidentiality

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