Bank of New Zealand (BNZ) announced today that it is cracking down on people sending abusive and inappropriate messages in the reference fields of bank transfers.
BNZ General Manager Customer Assist, Martin King, says, “If you are using bank systems to abuse and harass people, know that we see you and will put a stop to it.
“Domestic and economic abuse is unacceptable, and if it’s a BNZ customer doing this, you can expect a call from us. If the abuse doesn’t stop, we’ll end your banking services with us. Simple as that,” he says.
King says BNZ has spent the last six months analysing its data: “We’ve been building our capability to find people who use bank transfers to harass and abuse people. While the number of messages we’ve found hasn’t been large, we are absolutely appalled that this is happening at all.”
Of the hundreds of thousands of transactions that occur every day, only 2000 per month are problematic. Most of them include swear words or other abusive terms, but King says there is far more concerning behaviour.
“Around 20 transactions per month are for very small amounts – a few cents, a couple of dollars. It’s clear the amount is irrelevant, what they are doing is using the transaction to send messages to a person.
“The only reason someone would do this is to get around a block or a ban on social media, on messaging applications or SMS. Our analysis shows us these are situations where someone has very clearly said they don’t want to hear from another person who’s then resorted to using the banking system to get around the block. They do this knowing full well that unlike messaging platforms, bank transactions can’t easily be blocked,” says King.
On rare occasions the same kinds of abusive messages are attached to larger, monthly payments: “In these situations we can see people are using their child support payments to carry out the abuse. This is particularly disgusting as that money cannot and should not be blocked, so the receiver has no choice but to see the abusive messages,” he says.
BNZ is now actively monitoring this behaviour and taking action.
“We’re putting a stop to it. Our dedicated domestic and economic abuse banking team will be contacting those receiving these transactions to see what they need and what we can do to help.
“We want our customers to know that they do not have to put up with this. We will listen and work together with them, helping them to set up new bank accounts to escape the abuse, and our specialist team can refer them to support organisations such as Women’s Refuges and Good Shepherd NZ,” say King.
How BNZ is tackling abusive transactions
- Updating Terms and Conditions to make it clear to everyone this behaviour is unacceptable (BNZ can still exit customers without these changes)
- Using the BNZ dedicated domestic and economic violence banking team to reach out to victims if they are BNZ customers to understand their needs and help.
- Referring customers to partner organisations if needed.
- Contacting abusers if they are BNZ customers and telling them to stop sending the transactions or they risk losing their bank accounts and products.
- Working on technology solutions to automatically filter abusive messages and empower victims to manage what they see.
Where to go for help:
- Women’s Refuge – 0800 REFUGE (733 843) or www.womensrefuge.co.nz
- Good Shepherd NZ – 0800 466 370 or goodshepherd.org.nz/economic-harm/
- Are You Ok? – 0800 456 450 or www.areyouok.org.nz
- Shine – 0508 744 633 (9am-11pm every day) or www.2shine.org.nz
- Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and middle eastern women and their children – 0800 742 584 or www.shaktiinternational.org
- Aviva (Christchurch) – 0800 28482 669 or www.avivafamilies.org.nz
- If you’re in danger now, dial 111. If you’re unable to speak, press 55 to go through to the Police.