Half of older West Australians suffer in silent shadow of financial abuse

14 June 2024

Bankwest’s Hidden Costs report has cast a light on the increasing levels of elder financial abuse in the state, revealing almost half of Western Australians aged 59-79 suffer in silence and are uncertain about seeking support.

The Hidden Costs survey canvassed more than 1000 WA adults and was commissioned by Bankwest to raise awareness of a covert epidemic impacting those in more vulnerable circumstances across the state.

Elder financial abuse occurs when money is used to gain power and control and, while it can be difficult to recognise, it can have profound impacts on the health, wellbeing, and independence of older people.

The Hidden Cost figures have been released on the eve of this year’s World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, which is marked on 15 June each year, with the 2024 theme “Wise Up. Rise Up”.

Bankwest’s Hidden Costs report revealed more than a quarter (28%) of Western Australians reported having experienced elder financial abuse, which was an increase of two per cent on the previous analysis.

Of significant concern was the fear that was impeding the older generation who had experienced financial abuse from seeking support, with almost half (48%) either unsure if they would seek help or had not/would not do so.

The findings aligned with other results that showed 69 per cent of those in the “Baby Boomer” generation felt it would be difficult to seek help for financial abuse, far higher than Gen X (56%), Millennials (54%), and Gen Z (62%).

Fear underpinned the concerns of older Western Australians in seeking support, with the leading barriers being the risk of retaliation from the perpetrator (90%), risk of the perpetrator finding out (81%), and embarrassment (76%).

There was also a concern among older Western Australians that they would not be believed (58%) if they sought support.

The leading forms of financial abuse experienced by older Western Australians were the non-repayment of loans (68%), use of a victim’s money without their knowledge or consent (67%), and making the older person feel they were incapable of managing their money (59%).

Bankwest each year works alongside Council on the Ageing WA, Advocare, the Department of Communities, and other organisations to support the awareness campaign around World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

Bankwest earlier this year engaged and worked with Advocare on providing its Customer Assistance team with bespoke hands-on training in how to identify signs of financial abuse in an online or phone setting.

The Customer Assistance team offers support via a priority phone line to customers in vulnerable circumstances, with its colleagues on the frontline of financial abuse, with additional resources provided to all support colleagues.

Advocare’s Top 5 actions for seniors to protect themselves from financial abuse:

  1. Clear Inheritance Communication: Be explicit with family about the distribution of inheritances and resist pressure to give it prematurely.
  2. Banking Security: Keep PINs and bank details private and avoid being pressured into financial decisions, such as selling assets.
  3. Loan v Gift: Clarify if money is a loan or a gift and use legal contracts for loans.
  4. Living Arrangements: If an adult child moves home, or you move in together (including granny flat), set clear expectations on living arrangements (legal arrangements, financial contribution, household duties, babysitting).
  5. Enduring Power of Attorney: Choose someone trustworthy for your enduring power of attorney and seek legal advice on the matter.

Advocare Chief Executive Officer Louise Johnstone Forster said: “Elder abuse is a violation of an older person’s basic human rights, and is a complex, multifaceted, and often intergenerational issue with little public awareness.

“As a community, we all need to do more to shine a light on this issue, and we’re proud to work with Bankwest to help their staff identify signs of elder abuse, which can only strengthen the support they can provide to customers.”

Bankwest General Manager Personal Banking Scott Spittles said: “Bankwest has been supporting Western Australians for 129 years, and we remain committed to our customers and the communities of our home state.

“Banks can often be among the first contacted by someone experiencing Family and Domestic Violence, and we believe it is our responsibility to support initiatives such as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day and 16 Days in WA.

“The Hidden Costs research plays an important role in helping to inform discussion on these critical societal issues, while we ensure our colleagues are trained and equipped to identify abuse and provide appropriate support.

“We want customers and the community to know we’re here to help in their unique circumstances, and they can find more support via Bankwest’s Financial Abuse Hub, which connects to services such as 1800RESPECT.

About Bankwest
Bankwest’s vision is to be a simple, easy bank for the Australian homeowner of today and tomorrow, and our purpose is to build a brighter future for all. Bankwest provides personal and everyday banking solutions for customers across Australia. We support customers in doing their banking in the ways that suit them, with innovative digital solutions, an Australia-based 24/7 Contact Centre, and a passionate broker community. Bankwest is a division of Commonwealth Bank of Australia ABN 48 123 123 124 AFSL/Australian credit license 234945. Bank@Post is an agency service provided by Australia Post on behalf of Bankwest. Bank@Post is available at participating Post Offices. Services available are cash withdrawals, deposits and balance enquiries. Limits apply.

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