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Financial Abuse of Vulnerable Adults: Experience of Bank Staff

The National Centre for the Protection of Older People at University College Dublin recently completed a report examining bank staff’s experiences of financial abuse of vulnerable adults. Funded through Banking & Payments Federation of Ireland (BPFI), the research involved five retail banks – AIB, Bank of Ireland, Ulster Bank, permanent tsb and KBC.  Survey data were collected from almost 900 bank frontline bank staff and interviews were undertaken with 20 bank managers and five members of the National Safeguarding Committee (a multi-agency and inter-sectoral body, established by the Health Services Executive in 2014 to help ensure that adults who may be vulnerable are safeguarded).

Findings from the survey data demonstrate that some 66.5% of survey respondents had previously suspected a customer to be experiencing some form of financial abuse.  Cashiers and customer advisors/service staff are likely to internally consult with colleagues in the case of a suspicion of financial abuse, while bank managers will more likely monitor the situation, seek external consultation and follow formal procedures.  Individual judgement and previous experience were fundamental to decision-making, particularly for bank managers or those with over 11 years’ experience; and the length of professional banking experience played the most significant role in influencing and/or predicting the sample’s responses to the five scenarios describing potentially abusive situations.

Findings from the semi-structured interviews demonstrate the complexity and wide variations of case experiences of bank managers and the National Safeguarding Committee. These include being financially abused in the context of undue influence, scams, fraud and some cases described the issues experienced for some customers who may have capacity challenges, engage with strangers through social engineering scams, share PINs or open bank accounts without fully understanding the consequences.  Bank managers who have a suspicion of financial abuse of a vulnerable adult will engage in several strategies to further examine the context involved in order to assess the situation and decide the best response.  Furthermore, as well as following existing bank policy, intuition comes into play in responding to suspected cases, such as stalling the financial transaction and following up with the person.

The findings of the survey and the interviews with bank staff indicate widespread awareness and competence within the banking sector and in particular a strong willingness on the part of staff to assist and protect the customer. The five banks funded and participated proactively in the survey to understand the challenges, identify areas for improvement, and ensure policies and training genuinely further assist staff to empower and safeguard customers at risk.

Associate Professor Amanda Phelan, from the National Centre for the Protection of Older People, UCD, who led the research, points to the importance of this study in highlighting the link between social vulnerability and the risk of financial abuse.

“Financial abuse has serious consequences for people. This study provides evidence of the way bank staff currently work to safeguard interests of vulnerable customers; and also the need to ensure adults who may be at risk of financial abuse are safeguarded through enhanced banking systems and a higher societal awareness of how financial abuse can be perpetrated.”

Louise O’Mahony, Head of Sustainable Banking with BPFI, welcomes the research into how frontline staff of five retail banks – AIB, Bank of Ireland, Ulster Bank, permanent tsb and KBC – experience and manage cases of potential financial abuse.

“The findings of the survey and the interviews with bank staff indicate widespread awareness and competence within the banking sector and in particular a strong willingness on the part of staff to assist and protect the customer. The five retail banks funded and participated proactively in the survey in order to understand the challenges, identify areas for improvement, and ensure policies and training genuinely assist staff to empower and safeguard customers at risk.”

“Recommendations from the findings of this study have a duel focus which concentrate on actions within the banks themselves and actions on the macro level of society.  Equally, these recommendations may have further transferability to other financial institutions, such as An Post and Credit Unions.  BPFI’s participation in the National Safeguarding Committee and our involvement in preparations for the Assisted Decision Making legislation reflect the banking sector’s commitment to be part of the national dialogue required to enable an adequate safeguarding environment for adults at risk.”

The full report is available to download here.

 

For further information contact:
Louise O’Mahony, Head of Sustainable Banking, Banking & Payments Federation Ireland
M: 087 6125720   E: louise.omahony@bpfi.ie

Dr Amanda Phelan, National Centre for the Protection of Older People,  University College Dublin
M: 086 604 7578   E: Amanda.phelan@ucd.ie