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Anna Bligh speaking to ABC Sydney Drive about financial abuse  

Anna Bligh speaking to ABC Sydney Drive about financial abuse  

17 May 2024

13 May 2024

Richard Glover   

Hundreds of people gathered in Forbes yesterday, Mother’s Day to walk in memory of young mother Molly Ticehurst allegedly killed by her former partner who was on bail. As you know at the time of the alleged incident 27 women have died as a result of domestic or family violence this year so far. 10 of those women were from New South Wales. State Cabinet is this afternoon meeting to discuss potential changes to the bail laws and the Premier Chris Minns will be on mornings with Sarah MacDonald tomorrow morning talking about what they have decided to do. But one of the messages that came through loud and clear in recent discussions about the problem of domestic and family violence, is that it’s a problem requiring a community wide solution. The bail laws, yes, the funding from the feds with trying to escape domestic violence, but what about everybody else? What about the banks for instance? Anna Bligh is the CEO of the Australian Bankers Association and joins us here on Drive. Anna. Good afternoon.  

Anna Bligh   

Good afternoon, how are you?  

Richard Glover   

Good. There are things that banks can do, aren’t there, and they are effectively starting to do them already? 

Anna Bligh   

Absolutely. Banks have been very active in this space now for a number of years. There is an industry wide guideline that banks have committed to training staff to recognise things that might be a red flag. I should take a step back and say banks are deeply aware that financial abuse is absolutely at the heart of a great deal of domestic violence cases. If you are trying to control somebody, and make it impossible for them to leave, withholding money from them is a very effective way of doing that. It really disempowers people if they don’t have access to their own funds. So, you know, financial abuse can be be very dangerous. It can make women go back into dangerous situations or stop them from leaving. 

Richard Glover   

That was that brilliant piece of research by Anne Summers last year, wasn’t it which really set out, based on ABS data, the fact that so many women faced this choice of violence, or terrible poverty, you know, homelessness or violence, that was their choice. And in the most moving cases were people who, who’d made good their escape, but were then forced back into the violent household because they could just couldn’t survive outside. 

Anna Bligh   

That’s absolutely right. And, you know, your opening statement about that this has got to be solutions across the whole community. You know, banks can’t necessarily give people an income, but they can make sure that their savings are protected, so that wherever possible they protect them from signing on to be a guarantor or co-borrower for things which they’re not aware of properly, or they get no benefit from, so they’ve ended up signing themselves on to the perpetrators debt. Not only do they face poverty, they often face having to pay off the debt of a perpetrator. So, these are terrible circumstances and banks are doing a great deal of work in this area, including recognising where their role begins and ends. They’re not social workers. But they do have available to their frontline staff places where they can refer people. So, if they see something that they’re worried about in someone’s accounts, if they have a reason to think that someone might benefit from talking to an expert, they will certainly have that conversation and raise that issue.  

Richard Glover   

You mentioned under good coercive control, which we’ve been hearing so much about in the last couple of years, one of the most important things you say is cutting off someone’s source of of money. How possible though, is it for your banking systems to detect when that’s happening? 

Anna Bligh   

Look, it’s not a perfect science. But every year, banking technology gets more and more sophisticated. So with the combination of algorithms, the shift into digital banking by most of the community, AI presents even further opportunity to see patterns and to see where those patterns might, in fact, be causing harm. So one of the things that one of our major banks detected about four years ago was with some of their customers being regularly abused. When you make a transaction, and you transfer money to somebody else’s account, there’s actually a little description place there where you can write something that says, here’s the money for the concerts etc. What they identified was that a number of their customers were receiving payments of sort of less than five cents, usually one or two cents, sometimes 25 or 30 times a day with very intimidating messages. I know where you are. I found your new address. I know where the children go to school, right up to serious death threats. And so, you know, this is when you’re transferring one cent. This is not a legitimate transaction and it’s generally not always but often these are people who are the subject of domestic violence protection orders, and the perpetrator is using this because they are not able, under the law to use any other way of contacting the victims. 

Richard Glover   

And the victim may well have made sure she got a new mobile phone and a new email and all of that, but this one piece of information he’s got is what her bank account number is. Anna Bligh is with us, the CEO of the Australian Banking Association. Just stay with me, if you could, because you’ve just mentioned this system that has been run by the Commonwealth Bank to try to stop exactly that, the abusive messages with the one cent transaction. Angela Macmillan is the CBA is group customer service advocate, and joins us here on Dr. Angela. Good afternoon. 

Angela Macmillan   

Good afternoon, Richard, 

Richard Glover   

How common is this? 

Angela Macmillan   

Look, I think we were surprised when we first became aware of this issue through one customer just how prevalent the issue actually was. We did some analysis a few years ago when a customer raised the issue with us and said that a former partner of theirs was sending them abusive messages via netbanking Commbank platforms. And we did some very quick analysis and we actually found about 8000 instances of low value transactions with abusive descriptions attached to them in the preceding three months. So, it is incredibly prevalent unfortunately. 

Richard Glover   

Now since then, knowing that it’s now a problem you’ve identified hundreds of thousands of such transaction?  

Angela Macmillan   

We have, we have and we continue in the face of that to try and come up with more innovative ways to not only address the abuse as we see it, but also to prevent it. And one of the things that we’ve done most recently as part of our broader program to really help victims survivors of financial abuse perpetrated through domestic and family violence, as part of our next chapter program, is actually just to launch a pilot with the New South Wales Police, where we can actually report the transaction discrepancy, abusive transaction descriptions, that people receive to the New South Wales Police. Now that pilot started in last September, and really provides an escalation pathway for people who are receiving text messages within New South Wales that do contain abuse, so they can report their abuser more easily and quickly.  

Richard Glover   

Does the victim have to complain about the abusive messages? Or is there some sort of computer-based system that you can flag messages which contain certain language for instance? 

Angela Macmillan   

Yes, so it’s actually both Richard. So in the pilot, if CBA detects that one of our New South Wales based customers is receiving repeated abuse in the transaction descriptions fields in either Netbank or the CommBank app, our trauma informed Next Chapter team will actually reach out to them and contact the receiving customer to ask if they would like us to report the abuse on their behalf to the New South Wales Police. Now, once the customer has consented, and that’s a really important part of this, what we’ll do is actually initiate a report to the New South Wales Police, but also people who are experiencing this kind of abuse if we haven’t detected it, they can also contact us and ask us to report these instances of abuse on their behalf.  

Richard Glover   

Well look, as we said, right at the beginning, this is an all of society problem and we need every shoulder to the wheel so good on your bank, and I think NAB are doing a bit of it as well. Thank you. So thank you so much for talking to us.  

Angela Macmillan   

Thanks Richard. 

Richard Glover   

That is Angela Macmillan from the Commonwealth Bank. Anna Bligh is also with us, the CEO of the Australian Banking Association, says these are good ideas and will be taken up by all the banks.  

Anna Bligh   

Yes, well, I’m very pleased to say that while the Commonwealth Bank identified it, as you heard from just one customer’s experience, they’ve shared that experience right across the sector. And we’ve now got 14 of the Australian Banking Association banks. So, these are 14 banks that account for about 80% of the market are now putting in place changes to their terms and conditions, which basically mean that if an abuser is using their platform for this kind of abuse, then that means that they can actually take that abuser out of their banking network. So, they have done that now in literally 1000s of cases. So, where somebody does misuse those payment descriptions to abuse, then that behavior can mean that they can have their accounts closed, and that has happened, as well as with the consent of the woman, potentially taking it further on her behalf. So, you know, this is a very good example of when people think when they’re doing this kind of behavior, that it’s all hidden. But in fact, it can constitute evidence of contravention of a Domestic Violence Protection Order. And, you know, that’s why I think it’s very important for the pilot that’s happening now at the New South Wales Police, to go through and see just how helpful that can be to get, because often, these things happen without any witnesses without any evidence. And it’s very difficult for police to prosecute it in the courts. But this is hard evidence of behavior that is intimidating, controlling, abusive. And you know, in many, unfortunately, in some of these cases, we know this kind of behavior is the precursor to often quite fatal results.  

Richard Glover   

And in terms of the thing we started, started talking about, which is the cause of control and trying to squeeze off somebody’s access to their own money. Again, if that’s happening to somebody, they should feel they should feel able to go into their bank and ask for the manager and say, look, this is what’s happening. You know, is there some way around this for me? 

Anna Bligh   

Absolutely. Banks have very well-trained staff, and you heard Angela refer to a dedicated team. That team works with people experiencing violence and financial abuse every single day. So, there’s people with a lot of skill to go through bank statements and find patterns and see what’s happening. They go through and look at anything that you’ve signed up or things you didn’t even know you’d signed up. So if you’re worried, your financial security is part of your wellbeing for the rest of your life, so you don’t lose anything by going and talking to your bank. You can ring a call centre, if you don’t feel comfortable doing it face-to-face and you’ll be transferred to somebody who works with these sorts of issues all the time. 

Richard Glover   

Okay, reach out and ask for help. Anna Bligh. Very good to talk to you. Thank you so much.  

Anna Bligh   

Thank you,  

Richard Glover   

Anna Bligh, the CEO of the Australian Banking Association. We also heard from Angela McMillan from Commonwealth Bank who is the first bank to identify what it’s such as the sort of the evil of creativity when it comes to these people who are so sort of desperate to say evil things to their former partner. This really is quite a bizarre method of doing it by these one cent transactions in which the descriptor contains the most vile abuse as Angela said.  

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