When we think about customer vulnerability at BNZ, we start from the basis that there’s no such group as ‘vulnerable customers’.
That suggests it’s a group of customers that are easy to define which is not the case. The reality is that everyone can experience vulnerability, everyone can have something going on in their lives that puts them at risk of a experiencing a poor outcome.
It’s our job to identify vulnerability, to understand the circumstances and what is putting a customers at risk and ensure that anything we do as their bank doesn’t inadvertently make things worse but instead supports, where we can, to make things better.
Banks have a significant role in people’s lives. Our products and services help people function in society – we give them the ability to buy and sell things, to pay and get paid, the finance to make significant purchases like houses and cars, or the finance to turn an idea into a business. We help people get ready for the future and retirement with savings accounts, investment accounts, KiwiSaver, and all the financial advice that goes along with it.
If we don’t fully appreciate the difficulties a customer is facing, the consequences can be poor.
This is particularly true for domestic and economic abuse victim survivors.
New Zealand has a poor record of domestic and inter-partner violence, but one of the areas that seldom gets attention is how economic factors and finances form part of the abuse.
Economic abuse takes many faces but can be categorised into three areas – control, where a partner uses money to control someone, taking their pay and removing access to bank accounts for example, limiting, where a partner limits how someone uses money, how it’s spent, where, and taking all their assets, and sabotage, where a partner creates an uneven financial picture, for example putting all debits in another partner’s name or ruining employment prospects.
Money and finance are enormously powerful tools for good, but in the hands of a perpetrator, it can be used to create financial instability, to control, manipulate, and trap people, wreaking havoc both during the relationship and even long after the relationship has ended.
Today is New Zealand’s first ever Economic Harm Awareness Day. We are enthusiastic supporters of Good Shepherd NZ’s work to raise more awareness of this issue, and we are proud to back this day.
But it’s also something that has been on our minds at BNZ for some time.
Because we are so deeply involved in our customer’s financial lives, it’s on us to make sure we can provide the right kind of help for the people in these situations. To use our tools and expertise to make sure we are reducing harm and helping people out of harmful situations.
BNZ was the first bank in New Zealand to launch a dedicated economic harm support team in June 2020.
We work with experts in the field and other organisations to help provide dedicated services to people escaping violent relationships. Our team is specially trained to understand these customers’ unique situations and experiences, and we can help them get out of the shadow of the economic abuse they’ve been subject to, starting again with new accounts and advice and plans to help them get out of debt that they may have been forced into taking during the relationship, and more.
Earlier this year, BNZ also became the first bank in New Zealand to crack down on abusive transactions.
We monitor the transaction fields for abusive or threatening messages sent to or from BNZ accounts. But not every abuser uses foul language in their abuse. Sometimes it’s something as simple as reminding their victim they can still contact them with small but repeated transactions, so we monitor for these abusive patterns too.
Our message to abusers is simple – we see you. If you are using our system to abuse, harass or threaten people, we’ll put a stop to it.
We also want any customer who is a victim of this abuse to know that they don’t have to put up with this. We will listen and work together with you to put a stop to it, and we can refer you to get specialist help from support organisations like Women’s Refuges and Good Shepherd NZ.
Minimising harm and vulnerability requires broad work across society, from government, social services, NGOs, companies, and individuals alike.
BNZ is committed to doing our part. We’re working hard to better support customers experiencing vulnerability, especially those who have experience economic harm. We commend the work of the government and NGOs on this so far, but if there’s one thing that’s clear this first Economic Harm Awareness Day, it’s that there’s plenty of work to do