Banks unite to help customers experiencing financial abuse

Australian banks are launching updated guidelines on financial abuse as part of their continued focus on responding to family violence and elder abuse.

The updated industry-wide approach is designed to ensure bank staff are equipped to recognise signs of financial abuse.

This is an ABA media release, originally published on 4th April, 2021.

“This kind of behaviour is a form of domestic violence. It can be an enabler for partners to keep women trapped in abusive and often dangerous relationships”, said ABA CEO Anna Bligh. 

“It’s also used against the elderly. Elder abuse can take many forms; coercing someone to sign, forging signatures, withholding access to money.” 

“Banks take incredibly seriously their role in supporting customers experiencing financial abuse”, Ms Bligh said. 

The revised guidelines—last updated for family and domestic violence in 2016 and financial abuse in 2014—recognise cases of financial abuse increase during times of major crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, droughts, floods and bushfires. 

They also modernise banks’ approach to the issue, reflecting the uptake of digital banking and new risks such as the use of transaction description fields to threaten, harass and intimidate.  

“Bank staff are well trained to spot red flags and respond to cases of financial abuse. These guidelines will ensure that protection of vulnerable customers remains a key priority”, Ms Bligh said. 

“Anyone experiencing financial abuse should talk to their bank. They are ready to help.” 

What is the banking industry doing?

The banking industry has well developed processes in place to assist customers impacted by family violence and elder abuse.   

Banks understand that the issues faced by customers experiencing abuse are complex, and specific responses vary according to the customer’s circumstances which may change over time. 

ABA has worked with banks and community advocates to update and enhance our existing industry guidelines: 

The guidelines outline policies and practices that banks will have in place to support customers impacted by family violence and/or financial abuse, for example: 

  • Specialised training for staff to help them recognise the warning signs and support customers 
  • Making it easier for customers to communicate with the bank in a safe and confidential way  
  • Guidance on reporting to relevant authorities  
  • Referring customers for extra support  
  • Helping customers regain control over their finances 

Key Updates

Both guides: 

  • Reflect improved industry practice in identifying financial abuse 
  • Align to the new Banking Code  
  • Update external referrals and information for customers 
  • Update staff training to detect and appropriately respond to abuse 
  • Improve bank practices to respond to emerging issues 

Preventing and responding to financial abuse (including elder financial abuse) includes: 

This updated guideline responds to recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission report into elder abuse including an industry guideline that sets out reasonable steps in relation to: 

Preventing and responding to Family and Domestic Violence (FDV) includes updates relating to: 

  • Responding to abuse in transaction descriptions 
  • Reporting obligations regarding family and domestic violence 
  • Providing simple document request processes 
  • Opening new bank accounts (including using alternative identification documents for victims of domestic violence who have no access to relevant documents) 
  • Providing advice to customers regarding account settings and alternatives (such as two to sign, secondary credit card holders, and children’s accounts), amending operating instructions to ‘two to sign’, and proactive reminders of account settings (such as authorisations required for drawdowns / withdrawals)