FINANCIAL ABUSE: Banks recognise they have a pivotal role in fighting financial abuse.
FINANCIAL ABUSE: Banks recognise they have a pivotal role in fighting financial abuse.

Elder abuse: Banks work to find support solutions

ONE of the most common forms of elder abuse is financial; it accounts for some 40 per cent of reported abuse cases. But what can be done to stop it?

This type of abuse is a focal discussion item at this week's National Elder Abuse Conference where banking institution representatives are meeting to discuss what they are doing now and what can be done in the future to reduce it.

Seniors News spoke to customer advocates from two of the banks being represented at the conference.

Commonwealth Bank's customer advocate Dr Brendan French recognises banks have a "pivotal" role in resolving this issue.  "What we see every day is customers coming to the banks and guidance," Dr French said. "They look to us to prevent scams and loss of money, but also to detect where it occurs in their account and let them know what they can do to educate themselves and prevent further problems. We're well positioned to help."

Jo McKinstray, ANZ's customer advocate, believes banks have a key role in education and in detecting problems for customers, and the branches are in the perfect position to help.  "For example, through talking to a customer that might be about to do a transaction that looks like it might put them at risk, such as sending a large amount of money overseas to someone they have never met. I think banks are taking a much more active approach to questioning customers and perhaps dissuading them if it is clear they might be victims of a scam, for example."

Clearly branches continue to play a very important role in the banking activities of Australians, but what about when financial abuse happens online?

This is where the ever-increasing collection of personal data can help. "There is a real opportunity for (banks) to leverage those to identify changes in behaviour and to identify issues much more quickly," Ms McKinstray said. She goes on to suggest a bank's fraud detection capability could have added to it the ability to detect odd account transactions.

While some of the online tools available to customers can appear complicated, the CBA offers the app, Spend Tracker, which shows customers in real time what transactions are occurring in a nominated account. "If people don't feel comfortable or confident using these tools they can go into a branch where the staff are trained in helping people learn how to turn on these tools on and use them," Dr French said.

Back at the branches both banks continue to educate the frontline staff and give them the tools to be on the watch for potential financial abuse including building on the trust that is often there between customers and staff so that they can encourage customers that are worried about financial issues to talk to branch staff.

At the CBA Dr French said the bank is working on increasing and improving staff confidence and understanding across its large network of branches. "Last year we rolled out a training program across all of our branch staff," Dr French said. "This program assists our staff to identify signs where there are changes in people's spending patterns and helps them identify areas where customers might feel exposed, particularly elderly customers."

The ANZ has also tapped into the staff skills taught during its domestic violence awareness training to use towards it's staff knowledge and actions around financial abuse.

By the middle of the year the CBA will have in place practical hardcopy and online guides for individuals and community organisations which will contain tips for managing financial abuse and scams.

"We recognise education is the key," CBA insights and group customer advocacy head, Fergus Kennedy said. "We want to educate, explain and empower customers and to do that we want to produce these guides working with the community sector and various stakeholders, that give key insights and simple protections that everyone can use to make them safer and engage safely, but autonomously when looking after their financial affairs."

"We are getting serious about this and will put some considerable effort and resources behind it," Mr Kennedy added. 

Collectively the banks recommended last year several financial initiatives to the Law Reform Commission including  putting in place a national register of Power of Attorneys and a central controlling body that banks can refer potential financial elder abuse complaints.  Ms McKinstray adds the suggestion that the national register could operate in real time so branch staff could immediately check for the validity of the document rather than wait until being advised by a solicitor or customer.

Some tips from Ms McKinstray for customers are don't pre-sign blank cheques, don't share your pin number with anyone and don't be afraid to talk to your bank branch staff.  She also recommends putting in place an Enduring Power of Attorney well before you need it "It's very difficult to assist customers when there is no authority in place," she added.

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