New alerts to help stamp out financial abuse
7 February 2024
Westpac is doubling down on its efforts to protect customers with the launch of new alerts that will help identify potential power of attorney abuse.
The new detection capability will apply to accounts with a power of attorney arrangement in place and identify potential misuse of the arrangement based on certain account activity. It’s the first in a series of enhancements being made to help those supporting vulnerable Australians.
Tiffiny Lewin, Westpac Head of Customer Excellence says the new measures will flag payments where potentially suspect activity is identified, helping to protect against financial abuse.
“We’re introducing an added layer of transaction monitoring to alert on the early warning signs of misuse of a power of attorney. The new alerts will flag transactions that are out of the ordinary for an account with an active power of attorney.
“As many as 15,000 customers have a power of attorney arrangement in place at any one time and while the vast majority of these act legitimately in the best interests of the individual, sadly that’s not always the case.
“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 the investigation indicates misuse is likely.
“It’s unacceptable someone would use their position as a power of attorney for personal gain and Westpac is committed to doing what we can to stamp this out. We’ve invested in this monitoring and we’re optimistic that over time this will make a difference,” Ms Lewin said.
Council on the Ageing (COTA) Australia is the peak body representing the more than nine million Australians over 50. COTA Australia Chief Executive Officer, Patricia Sparrow, said:
“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. 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. We hope it will provide Westpac customers with another layer of peace of mind that their Attorney continues to do things in line with their wishes and preferences.”
Westpac has also updated the terms and conditions for its 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 we deem to be unacceptable.
“This change puts would-be abusers on notice there are serious personal consequences for misusing the bank’s products and services, including warnings or in extreme cases, being exited from the bank. Those consequences can also apply where a power of attorney is found to be abusing their position,” Ms Lewin said.
Today’s announcement builds on work Westpac’s been doing for some time to prevent financial abuse and protect customers.
“Last year we introduced mandatory customer safety training for employees involved in product development to help embed safety into the design of our products and we’ve had over 1,000 people complete the program to date,” Lewin added.
“We’re proud of the progress we’ve made. Everyone has a right to safe banking and we’re doing everything we can to ensure that’s a reality for all our customers."
Westpac protection measures include:
- 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 on certain gambling-related transactions through Westpac’s mobile or online banking.
- Parental controls and child safety. Westpac Bump Savings account includes a Parental Control feature, which allows parents and guardians to decide how much account access they’d like a child to have.
- Updated Terms & Conditions for savings and transaction products, highlighting a zero-tolerance for financial abuse perpetrators.
- Mandatory training for any employees involved in product design is considering safety principles in new product development. More than 1,000 people have completed this training.
- Safety by Design principles considered when the bank conducts a review of its products.