As a member of the Citizens Advice network of independent charities, Citizens Advice Manchester provides free, independent, confidential advice to many thousands of citizens on a wide range of subjects. These include energy, housing, debt, healthcare, benefits, and employment.
Since 2018 the Virtru data protection and privacy solution has been central to realising the organisation’s digital transformation by:
- Improving client communication security, speed and effectiveness by shifting from post to email
- Serving more clients in less time
- Ensuring protection of client data and GDPR compliance
- Allowing a rapid switchover to digital workflows
- Minimising staff training time and costs – in line with the Citizens Advice commitment to Cyber Essentials Plus
Historically, the post was the primary method used for client correspondence, but it was still possible for paper documents to go to the wrong place. Equally, for many clients their issues are time-sensitive and paper correspondence – or the implementation of clunky security tools – risked slowing down services.
Much of the client information collected and shared contains sensitive and confidential data—such as a client’s financial situation, health conditions or personal information. This had to be protected at all times and in accordance with GDPR.
While the tech itself is easy to manage – the team of advisors uses G Suite and Chromebooks – it was essential that sensitive data remains secure.
With clients expecting correspondence to be by email rather than paper-based this created huge data protection risks – workarounds involving zipping documents and using password-protected documents were far from ideal.
All of the above meant that digital correspondence had to be the channel of choice to improve client experience, and with this, an easy-to-use encryption solution was required.
According to Steven Booth, chief innovation officer at Citizens Advice Manchester (pictured below), ease of use is the number one priority for the third sector – it must be easy to use as many users are not tech savvy.
Virtru was selected and implemented at Citizens Advice Manchester in 2018. Since then, seven further Local Citizens Advice member organisations have adopted Virtru for email encryption.
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Virtru provides encryption technology for data shared through email, collaboration tools, cloud environments, and enterprise SaaS applications. This is designed to allow organisations to easily unlock the power of data while maintaining control everywhere it’s stored and shared. More than 8,000 global customers trust Virtru to power their data-centric, Zero Trust strategies and safeguard their most sensitive data in accordance with the world’s strictest security standards.
On his joining the Citizens Advice Manchester branch in September 2022, Steven Booth re-evaluated all the technology used/required. As part of this review, Virtru was voted a prerequisite by the branch team due to its ease of use.
The following features and functionality were key to this:
- Read receipts: allowing follow up with vulnerable clients who may need additional help.
- DLP rules: helping advisors comply with data privacy requirements by reminding them to toggle Virtru on when sharing sensitive data.
- One-click access: enabling less tech-savvy customers to overcome their issues accessing emails.
- Custom branding (including Citizens Advice logo): reassures clients that messages sent using Virtru really are coming from their trusted Citizens Advice advisor.
These features and the overall ease of use provide clients the digital experience they require, while providing them with the assurance that Citizens Advice takes the responsibility of protecting their data very seriously.
Initially, one of the biggest benefits was a reduction in costs – approximately £15,000 per year was previously spent on postage.
Additionally, with the Covid pandemic meaning face-to-face client sessions were no longer an option, the need for interaction intensified with more interactions happening online than ever before – Virtru usage subsequently increased almost tenfold.
The shift to digital workflows protected by Virtru has meant that advisors quickly become comfortable protecting client data, allowing them to spend more time helping more people. Virtru’s ease of use supports the Third Sector requirement for minimising time and costs spent on staff IT training.
“Using Virtru has helped us develop our reputation as an early adopter of technology within the charity sector,” said Booth. “We can easily prove to clients that we take their security and privacy seriously, and the speed with which Virtru allows us to communicate securely with clients opened the opportunity to provide better service and help more people.”
Citizens Advice Manchester is looking at the potential for the integration of Virtru encryption with AI/Machine Learning email correspondence software.