Westpac ups its game against financial abuse

"Safety is not a word, it's an action," bank official says

Westpac ups its game against financial abuse


By Mina Martin

Westpac has stepped up its game against financial abuse to make banking safer for customers.

The bank said it will embed Safety by Design principles into the design of all its products and provide mandatory customer safety training to its more than 800 employees involved in product development.

The development came in response to the Centre for Women’s Economic Safety’s (CWES) Designed to Disrupt report, which was backed by Westpac in late 2022. 

Tiffiny Lewin (pictured above left), Westpac head of customer excellence, said the bank won’t tolerate abuse and will take action against customers who use the bank’s products or platforms to harm others.

“Safety is not a word, it’s an action,” Lewin said. “We’ve undergone extensive research to understand the needs of vulnerable customers and how products might be used to cause harm.”

For key decision-makers involved in product development who don’t talk to vulnerable customers each day, Westpac has also developed a learning program on customer safety.

“This is as part of an ongoing commitment to strengthen product reviews so that going forward, there will be greater consideration of vulnerable customer needs in line with the eSafety Commission’s Safety by Design principles,” Lewin said.

“It’s important that Safety by Design principles are understood across the organisation, allowing more robust discussions about safeguarding our customers’ interests and taking action to prevent harm or misuse.”

Westpac said it is also updating its terms and conditions, starting with transaction and savings products, with a zero-tolerance policy for customers who use the bank’s products and services to engage in financial abuse or account conduct the bank deems to be unacceptable. 

“These updates complement Westpac’s existing features introduced in 2021 to protect customers from financial abuse, including the ability to self-report abusive messages via online and mobile banking, and proactively blocking inappropriate language from outgoing payments,” Lewin said.

“Since these changes, perpetrators are contacted directly by our specialist teams and in some instances, exited as customers or reported to law enforcement. Over 92% of perpetrators discontinued abusive behaviour after receiving a warning letter from Westpac.”

These new measures by Westpac to combat financial abuse have been welcomed by CWES.

“This is great news for victim-survivors of financial abuse, who carry an enormous burden trying to create safety,” said Rebecca Glenn (pictured above right), CEO of CWES. “Any steps banks can take to reduce that burden, mitigate harm and make it harder for perpetrators to misuse products is welcome news. 

“We are especially pleased to see a commitment to embedding safety into product design. We believe this is a new frontier of innovation in the banking sector, and we’re excited by the possibilities of rethinking products which are past their used-by date.” 

Below is a list of Westpac’s protection measures:

  • Stopping abuse in transactions. Customers are prevented from sending inappropriate language in payment descriptions. Customers can report if they receive abuse via online and mobile banking. 
  • Gambling block. Customers can apply an instant block in certain gambling-related transactions through Westpac’s mobile or online banking.
  • Parental controls and child safety. The bank has added push notifications, restrictions on online payments, and daily payment limits of $50 for those aged under 14 to its Choice Youth everyday account and Bump Savings account. 
  • Updated terms and conditions for savings and transaction products by October, highlighting a zero-tolerance for financial abuse perpetrators.
  • Mandatory training for more than 800 staff involved in product design, to be completed by October.

How is your organisation fighting against financial abuse? Share them with us in the comment section below. 

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