Money and control: how financial services can help protect vulnerable women

5 Minute Read

Banks are making moves to better protect their vulnerable customers from use of their products for abuse. With all sorts of legislation in the works to crack down on domestic abuse and coercive control, can providers be doing more to limit the damage women experience from financial abuse?

Recent research from Deloitte and CBA reveals the enormous impact of financial abuse in Australia. According to the report over 623,100 Australians experienced financial abuse in 2020 and this is almost certainly an underestimate. The number is far higher for women – nearly 1 in 30 women were subjected to financial abuse compared to around 1 in 50 men. The research also revealed that financial abuse cost victims $5.7 billion and the economy $5.2 billion.

The good news is financial services providers are making moves to limit potential use of their products for abuse. As marketers and communicators we have an important role to play in reaching vulnerable customers and amplifying this message to engage those most at risk.

Stepping up to the challenge 

In 2023 we’ve already seen significant momentum in tackling all forms of domestic and family violence. From the ‘blitz’ on hundreds of alleged perpetrators of domestic abuse in NSW to the introduction of 10 days’ paid family and domestic violence leave for millions of Australian workers. New legislation on coercive control is also working its way into our justice system, with NSW the first state to make coercive control a standalone offense.

While legislation can be a deterrent against acts of financial abuse, businesses have a role to play in protecting their customers from behaviours that are common in cases of coercive control.

Financial abuse is harder to spot

Financial (or economic) abuse is a non-physical form of domestic and family violence which can be often be hidden or ‘invisible’ within intimate partner relationships. While initially considered to be an element of emotional abuse, financial abuse is increasingly being recognised as a distinct form of domestic and family violence.[1]

Source: Deloitte, Commonweatlh Bank, Cost of financial abuse in Australia, 2022

The next steps for the financial services sector

In their Designed to Disrupt discussion paper the Centre for Women’s Economic Safety (CWES) have laid out a set of recommendations to help financial service providers act to prevent economic harm to women. Based on the Safety by Design principles from the eSafety Commission, the paper shares key data on financial abuse and how regulators and banks are responding. A case study on disrupting abuse in payment descriptions shows how awareness and positive action from banks has led to new detection and reporting systems. Not only do these alerts put a stop to abuse, they can also monitor for other criminal activity such as trading in illegal drugs and firearms.

In 2019, CBA were the first to notify the Australian Banking Association (ABA) of abusive messages and the first bank to announce changes in 2020 to address the issue of technology-facilitated abuse. They went on to launch a campaign in 2022 – the CommBank Next Chapter Commitment – to raise awareness of financial abuse.

While our banks are making excellent progress in supporting victims of financial abuse, this is generally happening on a case-by-case basis once the harm is done. What the CWES are proposing is to embed safety principles into products and services to limit, or even prevent, the impact of financial abuse. The paper goes on to offer recommendations for measures and features that could be applied to products ranging from transaction accounts to mortgages and offset accounts.

Find out more

To learn more about the role businesses can play in addressing domestic violence and abuse the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022–2032 is essential reading. And for a really interesting exploration of inclusive approaches to financial services design, the Upfront Podcast episode with Dr Karen Elliott, researcher, policy adviser and professor of fintech is well worth a listen.

[1] Deloitte, Commonwealth Bank, Cost of financial abuse in Australia, 2022

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