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Calls for major banking changes: ‘Women should not have to choose’

Women walking in Sydney city.
A new report is calling on the big banks to redesign their products to help prevent financial abuse. (Source: Getty)

Banks should redesign their products to better protect victims of financial abuse, a new report has recommended.

The Designed to Disrupt report by the Centre for Women’s Economic Safety (CWES) revealed joint products, such as transaction accounts, credit cards, personal loans and mortgages, were commonly misused by perpetrators as a means of coercive control.

The report revealed the ways products could be “weaponised” against victims, including perpetrators opening credit cards in the names of victims, withdrawing money from joint accounts, and using real-time transactions to stalk victims.

CWES CEO Rebecca Glenn said banking products were still designed as if couples “live happily ever after” but this wasn’t the reality.

“One in three marriages end in divorce and one in four women will experience abuse from an intimate partner,” Glenn said.

“We think banking products need to be designed with safety in mind from the start.”

The report anonymously interviewed victim-survivors of financial abuse, including women who had their credit cards cancelled or maxed out by their partners, and women whose partners refused to pay their joint loan products, leaving them solely liable.

“I would be doing groceries with our two young children or putting fuel in the car and the credit card would decline,” one person shared.

“It wouldn’t be until this happened that I found out that he had either cancelled the card or lowered the credit limit to an amount well below what it had been previously. It was embarrassing and made things extremely difficult as I couldn’t then buy what was needed.”

According to the report, more than 13,000 customers experiencing domestic and family violence called their bank’s specialist team over a 12-month period. People experiencing financial abuse were more likely to seek help from their bank than a domestic and family-violence service.

“The reality is that money is essential,” Glenn said.

“If you are experiencing abuse, to have money is to have options.”

What could change?

The report calls on banks to reimagine their products. For joint accounts, for example, it recommended setting up separate passwords, logins and portals to make it easier and safer to separate if the relationship ended or was abusive.

For home loans, the report recommended banks let customers know about their loan liability and options if they were to separate, and give them a choice about liability (such as joint, 50:50 or another percentage).

Minister for Social Services Amanda Rishworth welcomed the report and urged banks to look at how their products and services could be improved.

“Women should not have to choose between their financial security or their safety,” Rishworth said.

“Perpetrators should not be enabled by systems that exacerbate their abuse.”

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