CONTENT WARNING: Domestic violence, sexual assault
In August, a young woman who I haven’t seen in years shared a Facebook post. It was the first that I’d heard of the domestic violence policies of the Big Four Banks.
I was sitting in the passenger seat of the car, three or four years ago, when my mother started speaking about a friend of hers who was faced with an impossible decision. She hadn’t worked in years, was raising kids, and had limited access to accounts controlled by her husband, but she desperately wanted to leave the relationship.
To this my mother said, “money and assets are survival. Put it away before you get married and never speak of it again.”
Yet, not everybody has the foresight, or the ability, or the initial capital to put away enough to leave a financially abusive partner, especially given that Australia has the second highest household debt-to-savings ratio in the world. Someone’s savings should never define their ability to leave a relationship.
The Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence describes financial abuse as “difficult to identify” and “poorly understood.”
Banks can now be one of the first points of call for survivors. They can make a difference in people being able to leave relationships and preventing them from falling into poverty once they make the brave decision to do so.
So what are the Big 4 Banks doing about it, and how do you access their support? (Note: Banks cannot remove someone from a joint account without a court order).
The Commonwealth Bank Domestic & Family Violence Emergency Assistance Program offers:
At the point of leaving:
Access to specialist trauma counsellors
Safe establishment of bank accounts
Education programs on gender equity principles
Training for ban employees and financial counsellors
Access to an EXCELLENT resource on how to prepare to leave a financially abusive relationship, with a step by step checklist.
Financial assistance DV policy (what to do afterwards in terms of loans with Commonwealth Bank):
Homeowners wishing to move are provided a grant to support relocation
Those who want to stay have options with their mortgages
Lower interest rates
Unsecured debts may be waived, or repayment assistance provided
Preventing any restructuring from impacting credit histories
National Australia Bank
NAB has Domestic and Family Violence Assistance Grants which provides 1.4 million dollars to support domestic and family violence prevention and early intervention
NAB also provides a financial helpline called NAB Assist that can help women to get back on their feet if they are struggling financially.
NAB is able to help by:
“Setting up a transaction account for you that is not listed on Internet Banking,
Changing your passwords and PINs,
Changing addresses to keep your location confidential,
Breaks from repayments or reduced payments for fixed periods,
Stopping access to redraw on loans,
Updating joint accounts so that both people need to sign on any changes (known as ‘both to sign’),
Cancelling secondary credit cards,
Offering financial and personal counselling.”
Additionally, NAB has:
Financial hardship assistance, in partnership with Uniting, can include family violence worker, safety planning, assistance leaving.
In some circumstances this can include a grant towards rent, bond, or expenses to keep you safe.
NAB advises you change your mailing address to either online statements and letters or a trusted friend if you have an emergency/separate account.
Provides No Interest Loan Scheme (NILS) through community organisations
Settlement Services International provides these
Support for employees:
“Access to our Employee Assistance Program, a free and confidential, short-term assistance program provided by qualified counsellors
Have a specialist Indigenous EAP
Assistance for employees who are concerned about safety at work
Access to special leave and flexible work arrangements
Relevant information on our intranet, including links to resources and support.”
Worked with Rosie Batty to create a Global Domestic Violence Strategy to educate employees.
Support for customers takes place via the Customer Connect team, the ANZ hardship assessment team. Note it takes 21 days to confirm an outcome for the following:
Extensions of loans to reduce each repayment
Deferring some repayment
Refinancing personal loans
Reducing/deferring credit card repayments
Financial literacy training program (MoneyMinded)
Westpac Group (https://www.westpac.com.au/about-westpac/inclusion-and-diversity/Inclusion-means-everyone-matters/anti-family-violence/
Support for employees:
Flexible working arrangements
Time off work
Financial assistance, $5000 grants via Westpac Employee Assistance Foundation
Free financial planning from a BT Financial Planner: budgeting, superannuation, investment, insurance”
Additionally, in its delightfully vague policy, it also has “Financial products and advice to support our customers” and co-hosts the White Ribbon Breakfast with Finance Sector Union.
The Banks, for the most part, have made genuine attempts to improve their policies. Yet, it seems some are doing better than others.
One-off programs are not enough to support customers through leaving abusive relationships. Banks need to, over the long term, take special note of survivors and actively help them rebuild their financial life, potentially with the support of the government. Banks are a point of contact, and the government should capitalise on this by creating support programs within banks, such as co-funding specialised counsellors, or by creating structured referrals to other government funded services.
We need to view banks as a part of a complex interwoven system of domestic violence support, as opposed to being just the first point of call. To make them as effective as possible, banks must actively collaborate with local domestic violence services to ensure people are not lost through the gaps of inter-agency non-cooperation.
Finally, banks must collaborate, not compete, with one another. Each bank should have an avenue whereby non-customers are referred to the people they need to speak to in their banks, and to other referral services.