Westpac has announced the deployment of an added layer of transaction monitoring which it says can detect early warning signs of misuse of a power of attorney on its bank accounts – an often underreported form of financial abuse.
The new internal alerts will flag transactions considered “out of the ordinary” for an account with an active power of attorney arrangement – a legal arrangement that gives authority to another person or trustee to operate an account holder’s bank account on their behalf, particularly when the account owner is unable to do so themselves.
Tiffiny Lewin, Westpac’s head of customer excellence, notes that as many as 15,000 customers, many of whom are older individuals, have a power of attorney arrangement in place at any one time.
“[While] the vast majority of these act legitimately in the best interests of the individual, sadly that’s not always the case,” she said.
Westpac said it will actively monitor alerts and investigate these power of attorney abuses further where data raises a question.
Lewin said the bank had established 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,” she said.
Council on the Ageing (COTA) Australia chief executive Patricia Sparrow praised the initiative as “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,” she said.
According to data cited by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, financial abuse, which includes the abuse/misuse of a power of attorney, is among the most common forms of elder abuse. These abuses are most likely to be committed by a family member, usually a son or daughter, the data found.
According to AIFS, financial abuse is reported to be experienced by 2.1% of older Australians, accounting for more than 880,000 Australians.
Westpac also announced an update to its terms and conditions for transaction and savings products, adding a zero-tolerance policy for customers who use the bank’s products and services to engage in financial abuse or account conduct deemed to be unacceptable.