Vulnerable Customers

Accessibility

The Australian banking industry is committed to ensuring the accessibility of all banking products and services for all people, including those with disability.

When it comes to banking, every customer counts, and banks wanted to make sure that their apps, ATMs, online services, in branch services and any other banking related products were accessible to all Australians.

As part of an industry wide commitment to inclusive banking, the industry undertook a comprehensive review of its accessibility standards – the first such review in more than 15 years.

The review was led by Dr Graeme Innes and was supported by various bank representatives, who formed the Accessibility Working Group. He also sought input from key disability sector stakeholders and technical experts.

The result is a set of principles of accessible design which cover all areas of banking, including:

  • general accessibility
  • digital channels (websites and mobile banking)
  • device design and use
  • telephone services
  • voice activated services or AI
  • specific areas related to customer authentication

The banking industry is committed to ensuring that all Australian’s can access their products and services – believing that every customer counts, and that access to banking is a fundamental human right.

The Accessibility Principles for Banking Services

The Accessibility Principles for Banking Services (PDF) are based around Universal Design Principles and WCAG Principles. A Word document version is also available for download (DOCX).
A printable summary brochure is also available for download (PDF).

To help keep up with rapidly changing technological advancements, the Principles will be reviewed every two years.

The principles ensure that banking services in Australia are optimally placed to deliver the best accessibility and inclusive experience for their users.

The three dimensions to inclusive design encompass:

  1. Recognise diversity and uniqueness
  2. Inclusive process and tools: include people from diverse groups, with diverse needs and perspectives, into product and service design
  3. Broader beneficial impact: takes into consideration the context and environment and seeks solutions that benefit everyone through flexibility, adaption and personalisation.

For further information, please view the The ABA’s media release on accessibility.

Financial abuse prevention

Financial abuse is a serious and far reaching problem that can happen to anyone, but some people, like the elderly, people with a disability or other vulnerable and isolated people are at greater risk.

Increased house prices and reasonable superannuation balances can mean that some older people are in a good financial position. This can lead to family members feeling a sense of entitlement, with some people referring to it as inheritance impatience.

Exact elder financial abuse numbers are difficult to come by – but numbers will increase as population ages, by 2055 Australia’s population is expected to grow to 40 million, around 25% of them will be over the age of 65.

Fact sheet – Protecting yourself from financial abuse

This fact sheet is a plain English guide which provides information about financial abuse and outlines the steps customers can take to better protect themselves, their money and their property. You can view the fact sheet here.

What is financial abuse?

Financial abuse can take many forms and can happen over an extended period of time.

It includes spending money without permission, forging signatures, coercing someone to sign something, pension-skimming; using the person’s bank account or credit card without their consent; denying them access to their money or bank statements.

It can involve a loan that is never paid back, or threatening or pressuring someone to invest in something on their behalf, or forcing someone to provide care or other services without being paid or fairly compensated, or expects you to pay their expenses.

It can also be pressure to loan money, go guarantor on a loan, bullying a person to change their will, power of attorney or other legal arrangements.

Protecting yourself
  • Always protect your bank and financial cards, cheque books and other important documents. Never hand over a PIN or password to anyone.
  • If someone asks for money, discuss it first with a trusted family member or friend.
  • Get your affairs in order. Talk to your bank about setting up direct debits and pre-authorised bill payments. Consider who has third party authorisations over your accounts and ensure that they are trusted.
  • Keep a track on your bank accounts, investments and other assets.
  • Put in place arrangements, like power of attorney, for how your money and property will be handled if something happens to you or you can no longer communicate your wishes effectively.
  • Always read contracts and other documents carefully and never sign anything under duress, seek legal advice when in doubt or contact police if you think you are being abused.
Bank staff on the frontline

Bank employees need to be vigilant and cautious when faced with a possible case of financial abuse. To intervene or question a customer inappropriately, or without due consideration and sensitivity may cause embarrassment for the customer, or possibly damage the customer-banker relationship.

Challenges for bank staff and the solutions
  • It is currently very difficult for bank staff to report suspected cases – Australia needs an appropriate designated organisation where bank staff can report the suspected elder financial abuse for investigation.
  • It is difficult to assess customer competency. Banks will continue to offer ongoing training to frontline staff to help them identify and assist customers in difficult and sensitive situations.
  • Power of attorney legislation is inconsistent across the country, which makes it overcomplicated to detect and report abuse. Australian banks are calling on Governments to introduce standardised legislation across the country. In most states such as NSW, Queensland and Victoria, powers of attorney are not required to be registered formally, making it hard for banks to check the legitimacy of a power of attorney. The establishment of a national power of attorney register would help all financial institutions verify the authority of a power of attorney or court-appointed administrator when they present themselves as acting on behalf of a customer.

Australia’s banks will continue to work with governments and other key stakeholders to help ensure that all of the necessary measures, legislation and training are put in place to help protect older Australians from being abused financially.

Resources to help combat this silent crime

The Australian Banking Association (ABA) is working with a number of organisations to promote good practice and clearer processes for banks so they can better support customers who may be vulnerable to financial abuse or who want to plan ahead and manage their financial affairs, especially as they get older.

The banking industry is concerned about financial abuse and it wants to work together with interested groups to prevent this silent crime.

Industry Guidelines and other tools are currently under review, awaiting a final decision of Government.

  • Industry guideline – Protecting vulnerable customers from potential financial abuse: As a framework to banks, this industry guideline explains what financial abuse can look like, how it can impact customers and the bank’s relationships with their customers, and how banks staffs can respond.
  • Industry guideline – Responding to requests from a power of attorney or court-appointed administrator: This industry guideline explains how these different arrangements work legally across Australia, how they are used by bank customers and their substitute decision-makers, and provides a framework for how banks should respond to these arrangements.
  • Consumer fact sheet – Setting up power of attorney to help manage your banking needs: This fact sheet covers what customers need to know in order to set up power of attorney arrangements to manage their banking needs and what they can expect from banks. Customers must weigh up the risks and benefits and make a decision based on what matters most to them, without pressure from anyone else because these arrangements can be misused.
  • New tool to help detect financial abuse of Australians – Following a successful trial with major banks, Capacity Australia, with support from the Australian Banking Association (ABA), has released a simple online education and assessment tool to help bank staff combat rising financial abuse of vulnerable people.

Indigenous accessibility

The banking industry recognises that many Indigenous Australians face significant social, economic and financial disadvantage. The ABA and member banks work closely with Indigenous groups and government on improving money management, financial literacy skills and business enterprise within Indigenous communities.

Indigenous Statement of Commitment

The ABA’s Indigenous Statement of Commitment, revised in July 2015, outlines how the retail banking industry may make a difference for Indigenous Australians and their communities.
It details banks’ efforts to improve Indigenous Australians’ financial literacy levels, employment opportunities and their access to banking services.

In 2007, the ABA released its first Indigenous Statement of Commitment, to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the 1967 referendum that acknowledged Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as Australian citizens, by including them in the national census of the Australian population.

Financial education, financial literacy and financial inclusion

A number of banks have in place programs and activities that focus on providing financial literacy training and financial inclusion strategies to Indigenous Australians and their communities. These include money management projects, matched savings programs, financial counseling partnerships, e-learning grants to Indigenous schools, Indigenous business enterprise development support, and Indigenous community worker training.

The major banks also have Indigenous employment, traineeship and scholarship programs.

Find out more information about banks’ Indigenous Reconciliation action plans:

ATM fee initiative

The banking industry has worked with the Federal Government on an agreement to provide fee-free ATM transactions for bank customers in selected very remote Indigenous communities.

The participating banks include: ANZ, BankSA, Bank of Melbourne, Bankwest, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank Limited, BOQ, Citibank, Commonwealth Bank, HSBC, ING, ME Bank, NAB, St. George, Suncorp and Westpac.

There are 85 ATMs identified as meeting the eligibility criteria which are operated by the participating independent ATM deployers. A full list of these ATMs is available here. For more information visit the Commonwealth Treasury website.

Book Up

The ABA has partnered with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) to produce a booklet “Dealing with Book Up: Key Facts”, which provides helpful information about book up practices to assist community workers ensure Indigenous Australians are not vulnerable to store owners and others taking their money.

Book up lets you buy food or other items you need from the shop and pay for them later. When you buy something with book up, you usually have to give the store owner your bank card.

For more information about book up, go to ASIC’s MoneySmart website.