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Financial Quicksand

‘Financial quicksand’ is our term for online spending that’s too easy to slip into and too difficult to get out of - a worrying trend we’re seeing emerge across multiple markets.

Examples include:

  • Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) products, where consumers can find themselves entering into credit agreements without realising or fully understanding what they’re signing up for

  • Online gambling, where most gamblers estimate to takes only a matter of minutes to create an account, and protections are often difficult to access

  • Subscription services, which often tempt you in with a free trial that requires one-or-two clicks to enter, but is harder to cancel.

You can read more about financial quicksand in our blog ‘Financial quicksand is popping up everywhere - what is it? And why should we be concerned?

Why things need to change

Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL):

By offering to split and delay payments at checkout, BNPL products allow people to enter into credit agreements in seconds and take out numerous products with different providers.

While this will be useful for some, for many it can pose new and serious risks to their finances. Our research shows:

  • BNPL users were charged a total of £39 million in late fees, and more than 1 in 4 people regretted using BNPL

  • 2 in 5 BNPL users struggled to meet a repayment, and 1 in 3 missed or made a late payment

  • BNPL creates new and different risks for consumers than other credit products: 39% of people used BNPL without realising, and 42% didn’t fully understand what they were signing up for


Online gambling products are designed in a way that makes it hard for people to stay in control. Often, it’s far easier to create an account than it is to close one, while one-click deposits, prompts to increase bets and barriers to withdrawing money can contribute to this lack of control. Our research shows that 3.3 million people are in gambling debt, with the average value of gambling debt estimated to be £10,000.

  • 44% of online gamblers said their gambling has increased since the pandemic began

  • 57% of people in gambling debt said their debt increased during the pandemic 

  • 1 in 5 online gamblers regret gambling either every time they do it or most of the time 

Those who do access gambling controls, such as ‘time spent reminders’ and deposit limits, found them highly effective. While only 10% of online gamblers are making use of these, of those who have, over 70% said they were effective in helping them stay in control of their gambling.

What we’re asking for

To tackle these rapidly evolving online markets, equally creative and nimble regulation is needed.

Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL):

The Treasury has opened a consultation into the rapidly-growing BNPL market, which we will be responding to. As the sector continues to expand across new markets and into new retailers - being used to buy white goods, electronics and even food -  it’s essential that regulation addresses the new risks created by this shift in how we spend, and the considerable problems we’re seeing already. 


We’d like to see these gambling controls expanded and put in place by default, with gamblers given the choice to opt-out, rather than opt-in.

The Government has committed to bringing forward a White Paper on gambling regulation in the coming months.

What we’re saying