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At Conference Vicki learned about advice innovations and met a shark!


At Conference for the first time, Vicki hoped to learn more about how Citizens Advice works. She wasn’t disappointed. A full day covered tech possibilities, colleague and client wellbeing and Citizens Advice values.
Vicki Phelan is a Financial and Wellbeing Support Service Caseworker at Citizens Advice Epsom & Ewell (4 minutes)

A 5am start heralded a day ahead in Birmingham and my first annual conference for Citizens Advice. I have been working on the Financial and Wellbeing Support Service project for 6 months and have been very interested in how Citizens Advice works.

The day started with an address from national Chief Executive Clare Moriarty. Clare talked about the huge importance of Citizens Advice and the other support charities particularly at the moment. She also added a warning note about funding. To be able to help others in society, the charities needed proper funding and that was getting more difficult.   

Open banking

The room was full for a session on AI and emerging technologies. I was impressed with the potential of open banking for helping clients and advisers get quicker access to bank statements. Clients don’t always bring them in and to get a full picture for maximising income, advisers do need this information. With open banking the process will be cut from weeks to a few clicks in a few minutes. It will also itemise utilities, groceries prescriptions and much else.

This saves time for the adviser and means we can ‘hit the ground running’ in relation to advice and tackling debts. It will be exceptionally useful in my field of work. We will have much more time to actually deal with the issues rather than work on admin. Obviously, clients will need online access for an open account and it may be some time before all do. We will always be here to help all clients but I look forward to it being more common.


A trauma informed approach can help our people navigate change. That was the take-way from a session that tackled trauma as a client and trauma in an organisation. It explained the window of tolerance and how our own experiences can affect this through hyper- or hypo-arousal; it is highly significant knowledge as people can shout or withdraw into themselves, both being signs of trauma.

The informed approach recognises this in individuals, teams and organisations and helps us adjust accordingly. Being aware can inform how we react and move forward. As advisers, we are well aware of people not facing their situations until crisis point; thinking about why keeps us on track to help.  

Data Insights Live

Conference included the April Citizens Advice Data Insights Briefing, the first with a live audience. (These monthly online events began two years ago as open to all cost-of-living briefings.) I am proud to see how our data informs and influences the government, public and consumer services for the better. The case studies were particularly poignant and I feel grateful to work in an organisation that does its best (and succeeds) to help others in crisis. Times are tough and it is becoming increasingly difficult to help. High-quality data keeps us properly informed and helps us keep going despite the difficulties.

Note: more about April Data Insights online here including May (Is the cost-of-living crisis over?) and June (Everyday Inequality: Gender, with Jess Philips).

The key for all CA colleagues is also to look after ourselves. We can only do what we can do. This was a clear message of the day. I always think of the saying: ‘The impossible we do at once, miracles take a little longer’!

Market Place

It is always good to meet people face-to-face and hear about new projects they are working on. That was the purpose of Conference Market Place. I spoke to Pay Plan who explained how they help with specialist debt plans for the self-employed and their work with domestic abuse victims. And Notify Now. This company aims to create a one-stop shop for notifications, not just to government organisations but utilities and other contacts. They are interested in working with CA due to the work we do.


Throughout the day we dealt with serious issues but there was fun as well. My picture was taken with a (loan) shark and talking to CA colleagues about volunteering, energy and just the work we do was always interesting. Sharing experiences is always helpful too, for example it’s quite common to find yourself helping a client who arrives with a carrier bag full of unopened letters. It can be discouraging but we do appreciate what it takes for a client to walk into an office with said carrier bag!

Vicki with shark
Vicki says: ‘People with serious money worries benefit from independent, trustworthy support not voracious ‘payday lenders’ aka loan sharks‘.

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