Financial abuse: The hidden epidemic

Financial Standard – 7 August 2018

Australia’s Commonwealth Bank is extending its domestic and family violence support program due to customer need, with its helpline receiving about 90,000 calls in the first month.
Initially launched as a 12-month pilot in November 2017, the CBA Domestic and Family Violence Emergency Assistance Program will continue indefinitely as a result of the volume of customers requiring help.
In its first month, the program’s helpline received 87,000 calls with 6000 customers using the bank’s services to date. It is estimated up to 90 per cent of women affected by domestic and family violence are experiencing financial abuse.
The program offers access to independent specialist trauma counsellors, financial assistance, safe establishment of bank accounts and over the phone support to ensure appropriate communication with family and friends.
Of those helped so far, 95 per centare women, half of which are aged between 22 and 35 years of age. The majority of calls have been received from New South Wales, with Western Australia and Queensland close behind.
Describing financial abuse as a hidden epidemic, CBA is committing about $20 million in prevention and support initiatives, including training branch staff and financial counsellors in identifying and supporting potential victims.
While speaking at a forum hosted by Financial Standard and Challenger earlier this year, KJB Law senior solicitor Kerstin Glomb said financial abuse receives less attention and tends to go unchecked because perpetrators typically aren’t breaking the law.
“Illegal exploitations are easier to identify; fraud or theft can generally be found on paper,” she said.
CBA general manager of group customer relations Catherine Fitzpatrick said the response from customers shows the need is great, and it is essential government, community and corporates work together.
“We know that financial abuse can impact the long-term financial wellbeing of our customers, particularly women, and our focus on financial education and supporting our customers in crisis is one way we can help,” she said.
“Having help to access and manage your money gives people choices and, especially for those in violent relationships, can literally mean the difference between life and death.”
About 16 per cent of Australian women will experience financial abuse in their lifetime, ranging from controlling or restricting access to money to running up debt in a victim’s name.
In June, the Australian Banking Association, National Seniors, Council on the Ageing, Older Persons Action Network and the Financial Services Union joined forces to lobby Government to allow the safe reporting of suspected elder financial abuse by bank staff.
“Bank staff unfortunately all too often see people who are their customers being pressured to give access to their accounts, all too often see their accounts being drained by family members, by friends that they trust and care about,” ABA chief executive Anna Bligh said.