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New tool to help detect financial abuse of Australians

Sydney, 12 February 2015: Following a successful trial with major banks, Capacity Australia, with support from the Australian Bankers’ Association (ABA), has released a simple online education and assessment tool to help bank staff combat rising financial abuse of vulnerable people.

Some estimates show that around 150,000 Australians over the age of 65 are subject to some form of financial abuse from family members or other people in their lives. 

President of Capacity Australia, UNSW Associate Professor Carmelle Peisah, said financial abuse of people with cognitive impairment is growing, as is the rate of dementia in Australia.

“Financial abuse is a serious issue that needs to be stamped out wherever we can.

“Customer service employees in bank branches are on the front line in this fight and are ideally placed to help identify financial abuse early - or the risk of it - and do something about it. 

“This learning tool will help staff understand the signs of those who are vulnerable as well as become familiar with signs and symptoms of dementia so they can spot customers who might be struggling with their banking transactions, or are being stood over by others and may need support,” she said. 

ABA Chief Executive Officer, Steven Münchenberg, said financial abuse prevention was an ongoing focus for the banking industry.

“Banks want to equip their staff with the knowledge and skills to recognise and act on financial abuse. This tool will help educate bank staff who interact with customers face-to-face or on the phone. It will help banks which use the tool put the ABA’s industry guidelines on stopping financial abuse into daily practice.

“Trials of the tool with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and National Australia Bank have shown almost 100% improvement in identifying financial abuse risk and what to do about it – in an approximate completion time of 15 minutes,” Mr Münchenberg said.

CEO of Alzheimer’s Australia NSW, John Watkins, said Capacity Australia’s initiative was a practical step forward in helping to prevent people with dementia and other cognitive disabilities from being financially abused.  

“Financial abuse is a crime and as a society we should be taking all steps possible to eliminate it - up to 90% of financial abuse of people with dementia is committed by people well known to the victim.

“Our research highlights red flags that indicate potential financial abuse and gaps in policy and practice that enable abuse to occur. Providing staff education addresses one of these gaps,” Mr Watkins said. 

The online learning tool was developed by Capacity Australia in collaboration with Australian online adaptive learning company, Smart Sparrow, using $50,000 in seed funding provided by UNSW’s Dementia Collaborative Research Centre.

Smart Sparrow’s founder and CEO, Dr. Dror Ben-Naim, said: “Capacity Australia has created great content for its learning tool. With its real-time learning analytics, banks using this tool will be able to measure the impact it has on staff in the fight against financial abuse.”


Media contact:

Australian Bankers’ Association: Stephanie Arena 0477 470 677

Capacity Australia: c/- GRACosway: John Frey 0411 361 361

Key facts about dementia 

Who is more often identified as the perpetrator of financial abuse of people with dementia?

(Discussion Paper 10, Alzheimer’s Australia NSW, 2014)

Capacity Australia: Capacity Australia is a not-for-profit charity that promotes autonomy of decision-making – an individual’s right to make his or her own decisions. We believe that while autonomy of decision-making is paramount, it is equally important to ensure that where a person lacks capacity to make their own decisions, the necessary safeguards are in place to prevent abuse, neglect and exploitation.

Australian Bankers’ Association (ABA): With the active participation of 24 national, regional and multinational member banks in Australia, the ABA provides analysis, advice and advocacy for the banking industry and contributes to the development of public policy on banking and other financial services. We work with government, regulators and other stakeholders to improve public awareness and understanding of the industry’s contribution to the economy and to ensure Australian banking customers continue to benefit from a healthy, stable and competitive banking industry.

Smart Sparrow: Smart Sparrow is an Australian ed-tech start-up pioneering adaptive and personalized learning technology founded by Dr Dror Ben Naim who previously led a research group in Intelligent Tutoring Systems and Educational Data Mining at UNSW. Smart Sparrow is the technology partner for a number of teaching networks, including a Smart Science Initiative developing engaging digital ‘quests’ and virtual learning environments to improve science education for Australian high schools. 


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