Safety by design: protecting our customers from financial abuse
Putting measures and support in place for victims of financial abuse.
This article discusses domestic and family violence. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic and family violence, help is available. Contact 1800RESPECT for confidential counselling and support.
When Suncorp Bank customer Francine* contacted us for help, she had left her partner of 10 years, Mark*. Following a violent escalation, emergency services took out immediate protection orders for Francine and her three-year-old child.
Once they separated, Francine became aware that Mark had fraudulently used her ID to apply for personal loans and credit cards, racking up a significant amount of debt.
#What is financial abuse?
Francine’s account of her past relationship is chilling.
The Australian Bureau of Statements Personal Safety Survey, involving 12,000 Australian adults, found that 7.8 per cent of men, and 16 per cent (1.6 million) of women, are subjected to financial abuse in any given year.
More than simply a disagreement over money and household spending, financial abuse is often combined with other forms of abusive behaviours, including verbal and psychological abuse, physical violence, stalking, sexual abuse and intimidation. It includes actions that may limit victims’ access to money, with perpetrators exuding control over a partner’s finances.
Suncorp Group’s Executive People, Culture and Advocacy, Fiona Thompson, said financial institutions play a key role in helping improve the safety and protection of victims and survivors of financial abuse.
“It’s important we recognise the different contexts and ways in which victims and survivors experience abuse and design solutions that help our customers feel safe.” Ms. Thompson said.
“In Francine’s situation, we established a case manager, immediately put a hold on her joint account and developed a plan that helped Francine access short-term financial assistance.”
#Protecting our customers now and in the future
Suncorp’s Customer Advocate Office is taking steps to support and protect customers from the challenges facing victims and survivors of financial abuse, as well as supporting our employees who may also be victims.
“Suncorp works with expert partners and customer advocates to identify improved practices and explore ways to reduce foreseeable harms where abusers can use insurance and banking to perpetrate financial abuse.” Ms. Thompson said.
#Supporting the challenges faced by victim-survivors of financial abuse
Suncorp’s Extra Care Hub was established to enable customer teams to identify and interact sensitively with victim-survivors. In 2023, the hub will have supported over 800 customers facing financial and domestic and family violence across Australia.
Suncorp’s partnership with Uniting's CareRing referral service is helping customers impacted by financial hardship, mental health challenges, or domestic and family violence. The service includes a dedicated case manager for customers needing long-term assistance, referral pathways to community and health services, and financial assistance for specialist requests.
Designing for safety:
Perpetrators of financial abuse may call and ask for information about a joint policy and use financial products and systems to send abusive messages to victims. Over 7,500 payments were stopped between January and June 2023 due to abusive language. Suncorp has created customer-by-design principles to guide the development of processes, products and term and conditions, to help prevent economic abuse.
Conduct of others:
Suncorp was the first Australian insurer to introduce a ‘Conduct of others’ clause to our consumer insurance policies. The clause protects our customers by making it easier for our claims teams to respond when a policyholder may have been prejudiced by the acts of another policy holder/s or those who have a financial interest in the policy. Where a perpetrator causes property damage, we work with the customer experiencing domestic and family violence and may be able to accept claims that would normally not be covered.
This is a whole of community issue, so Suncorp also supports its employees who may be affected by domestic and family violence abuse or are working with impacted customers. This includes taking leave, changing work arrangements, and connecting them with external support. Guidelines have also been developed for leaders on how to support their people.
Tackling financial abuse is ever evolving, but it is clear that financial services play a crucial role in offering support and protection to their customers and the community in which we serve. For more information about the support Suncorp provides for customers impacted by financial abuse and family violence, visit:
Domestic and family violence policy | Suncorp Insurance
Domestic and family violence policy | Suncorp Bank
Financial Inclusion Action Plan | Suncorp Group