Call for banks to hire elder protection officers as branch closures put elderly at risk of abuse

Media Release: 13 November, 2017

An advocacy group for older Australians has called on Australia’s big four banks to train and retain dedicated elder protection officers in branches amid fears recently announced bank job cuts and technology changes will put many older customers at greater risk of elder financial abuse.

Greysafe, a not for profit organisation that works to prevent the abuse, neglect and exploitation of older Australians, will lobby the Australians Bankers Association (ABA) and the CEO’s of Australia’s major banks asking them to do more on elder financial abuse and commit to employing dedicated elder protection officers in branches.

It comes in the wake of a new advertising and PR campaign titled – “The Banks Belong to You” – launched today by the ABA aimed at warding off calls by some political parties for a banking Royal Commission.

“Vulnerable Australians aged over 65 certainly don’t feel the banks belong to them. According to APRA, there were over 300 bank branch closures across Australia last year and in rural areas alone, the four major banks have closed at least 38 branches across Australia this year,” said Greysafe CEO Michael Riley.

“It is over a year ago that the ABA asked banks to be more proactive in heading off potential elder abuse. Yet this appears to have been met with silence by bank CEO’s who seem more focussed on delivering record profits for shareholders, developing multi-million dollar advertising and PR campaigns and cutting staff from branches.”

“Financial abuse is one of the most common types of elder abuse.  Among thousands of calls to elder abuse help lines each year, over a third relate to financial abuse. We’ve heard many reports of perpetrators spending the money of their victims without permission, forging signatures or forcing older Australians to sign bank forms.”

Mr Riley said elder abuse advocates feared an announcement in recent weeks by NAB Chief Andrew Thorburn that his bank would axe thousands of staff, would lead to the other big four banks doing the same, leaving vulnerable older Australians at the mercy of manipulative family members or ‘trusted’ friends and carers.

“Cuts to frontline branch staff numbers and services are going to put older customers, many who struggle with technology and rely on bank staff to help them with their banking needs, at a greater risk of exploitation and abuse from perpetrators.”

“In the wake of cuts to staff and branches,  the least bank CEO’s could commit to is having a dedicated and properly trained elder protection officer employed in every bank branch to ensure older Australians were able to access the services they need, and importantly, be protected from the risk of financial abuse.”

Mr Riley said that when faced with new technology and change, older Australians will often put trust in a family member to help or take control of their banking thus putting them at greater risk of financial abuse and manipulation.

“Having a dedicated and properly trained elder protection officer in branches for all customers over 65 will minimise the risk of elder abuse and leave banks less exposed to potentially adverse determinations and compensation payments,” Mr Riley said.

“The banks can’t have it both ways, on the one hand they are too big to fail in times of crisis, and are provided government guarantees. On the other hand, this protection must also entail a social licence to provide vital services to communities in a manner which is not only determined by profitability of branches.”

“ABA CEO Anna Bligh is scheduled to speak at the 5th National Elder Abuse Conference in Sydney in February so we will ask her to provide an update on what action has been taking place since November 2016, when the ABA recommended that banks develop a framework for the identification and escalation of suspected cases of financial abuse.”