The big bank has responded to the ABA’s new Banking Code of Practice with the introduction of its Customer Support Hub.
National Australia Bank (NAB) has announced the launch of a new “specialist team of bankers” dedicated to recognising and responding to vulnerable customers.
The new team has been created in response to the Australian Banking Association’s (ABA) new Banking Code of Practice, which ensures lenders “take extra care with customers who may be vulnerable”.
The new code, which came into effect on 1 July 2019, brought in a higher standard of customer care when dealing with individuals and small-business customers – particularly vulnerable customers, co-borrowers and guarantors.
NAB chief legal and commercial counsel Sharon Cook said that the specialist team was established to detect early stages of financial hardship, from scams to fraud, domestic and family violence, elder abuse, low financial literacy and gambling addiction, as outlined under the Banking Code of Practice.
Ms Cook said the newly created team provides support “well beyond that of traditional financial hardship assistance”.
“This Support Hub enables us to be more proactive by identifying hurdles our customers are experiencing and providing them with extra care,” Ms Cook said.
Ms Cook revealed that the Support Hub went through a trial process in June, which helped more than 500 customers.
“By referring customers to community partners, we have been able to provide much needed assistance to those experiencing elder and financial abuse, mental illness and credit card debt,” she said.
“We have also, at the request of customers, applied restrictions on gambling transactions on credit or debit cards that prevent them going further into debt.
“We have also set up a dedicated Indigenous Customer Service Line for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander customers living in remote locations, which is making a huge difference to how they access banking services.”
Elder financial abuse on the rise
The announcement of the specialist team also comes after the ABA called on the government to act on increasing cases of elder financial abuse.
According to the ABA, around one in 10 older Australians experience elder abuse in any given year, with the prevalence of neglect possibly higher.
Additionally, according to new YouGov research released by the ABA, 57 per cent of Australians are worried about a loved one experiencing financial abuse.
Australian Banking Association CEO Anna Bligh commented: “The growing problem of elder financial abuse in our community is an uncomfortable truth that every Australian should be aware of.
“Bank staff have told me stories of attempting to intervene in situations where they see money drained out of the accounts of pensioners, often for items they are not using such as holidays or expensive jewellery, but the victim is unwilling or unable to report what is really happening.”
She added: “Governments need to establish a national online register of Power of Attorney Orders, standardise laws, and legislate a designated safe place to report elder financial abuse.”
The move to identify and reduce financial abuse has been a key point of focus for the lending market, and has seen flow on effects to the broking industry, too.
For example, earlier this year the ABA, the MFAA and the FBAA agreed on a "common approach" to identifying financial abuse in a co-borrower arrangement, with training modules to help brokers identify customers that may be suffering from financial abuse expected in due course.
It is believed that, once finalised, the training will be rolled out by both the MFAA and the FBAA to broker members.
[Related: Prospa launches education initiative]