The bank is tightening its transaction monitoring to alert staff of the early warning signs of misuse of power of attorney arrangements.

The bank’s head of customer excellence Tiffiny Lewin said around 15,000 Westpac customers have power of attorney accounts in place and while the vast majority act legitimately, it’s not always the case.

“Westpac is committed to doing what we can to stamp this out,” she said.

“We’ve brought together three specialist teams to administer the alerts and undertake further investigation on each.

“Our dedicated customer care team, who have expertise in supporting people in vulnerable situations, will step in to assist where investigation indicate misuse is likely.”

How prevalent is financial abuse in Australia?

A Commonwealth Bank of Australia survey of 10,000 Australians who have directly or indirectly experienced financial abuse reveals minority groups are at higher risk.

Risk factors include age, disability, migrant, or First Nations status.

In the three years since CBA launched its program to help financial abuse victims, its case numbers have increased with the bank estimating 42% of Australians are being impacted by financial abuse either directly or indirectly.

What are banks doing to stop financial abuse?

In December, a report for the Australian Banking Association found Australian banks are global leaders in making clear to customers that financial abuse is unacceptable behaviour.

A review of product terms and conditions of more than 70 banks found 13 banks warn customers that detection of financial abuse may result in account suspension or closure. At that time, three more banks were introducing similar measures.

The products reviewed included transaction accounts, personal loans, digital-only bank accounts, and safe custody packets.

Westpac abuse program

Westpac’s latest measures will add another layer to its financial abuse protection program.

The bank already allows customers to report abusive messages sent via its online and mobile banking platforms, designed to stamp out gendered violence.

Perpetrators are contacted directly by the bank’s specialist teams and, in some cases, discontinued as customers or reported to police.

Westpac said more than 92% of perpetrators stopped their abusive behaviour after receiving a warning letter from the bank.

The bank also allows its customers to apply an instant block on certain gambling-related transactions and grants parental controls on account access for children.

Older Australians applaud the move

Council on the Ageing CEO Patricia Sparrow has welcomed Westpac's new measures.

“It's an unfortunate reality that older Australians can fall victim to abuse at the hands of people who have a Power of Attorney designed to support them,” she said.

“This initiative by Westpac to actively monitor alerts and investigate further where data raises a question is a great step forward that will hopefully result in far fewer older people being taken advantage of.”

A 2023 federal government study of elder abuse found more than 2% of people aged over 65 reported experiencing financial abuse in the previous 12 months.

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