Banks take one step forward and two steps back

Article published 14 April 2021

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ON 4 April 2021, The Australian Banking Association (ABA) said in a media release that Australian banks are launching updated guidelines on financial abuse focusing on reducing the impacts of family violence and elder abuse.

Although it’s good that banks are taking these issues seriously, with more and more bank branches closing its hard to see how these guidelines will effectively support older people who are forced to bank in ways that they are not familiar with which further exposes them to financial risk.

The ABA says it has worked with banks and community advocates to provide specialised training to ensure bank staff can recognise signs of financial abuse.

ABA CEO Anna Bligh said in the same media release “Anyone experiencing financial abuse should talk to their bank. They are ready to help”.

However, you probably won’t be able to talk to someone from your bank in person as bank branches continue to close, rapidly.

Channel Nine News reported on 8 April 2021 that a shift to electronic banking during the COVID-19 pandemic has seen banks close hundreds of branches over the last 18 months.

The Financial Services Union (FSU) closely monitors bank branch closures in Australia. On the FSU website they say that 640 bank branches across Australia have closed since 2017, most occurring in regional Australia.

What’s the reason for closing branches? Banks suggest that their customers are flocking to online services and aren’t going into branches anymore. However, online or even phone banking services won’t be much use for people living in the country with poor internet services and bad phone lines.

Financial services can be complex and confusing, so it is good to see banks addressing the risk of financial abuse that affects so many older people.

However, have banks stopped to think that by phasing out passbooks, closing bank branches, and forcing people to change the way they have banked for decades might expose people to further financial abuse?

Banks can’t claim to be putting a stop to financial abuse but at the same time alter their services in a way that creates uncertainty and confusion which could result in financial abuse.


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