Banks raise the bar to help struggling customers

Customers at risk of elder financial abuse, those exiting a violent relationship or experiencing an unexpected long-term illness are among the focus of new ‘vulnerable customer guidelines’ on which public consultation opens today.

The consultation will result in a new banking industry guideline on supporting vulnerable customers, to complement the new Banking Code of Practice, and will be launched later this year.

CEO of the Australian Banking Association (ABA) Anna Bligh said development of the guideline was important for the industry, which had a responsibility to assist vulnerable customers.

The guideline would outline ABA members’ commitment to ensuring customers could access appropriate banking products and services, which were suitable and fair for their circumstances. It would also reassure customers they should feel comfortable telling their bank if they were experiencing vulnerability.

“There is no doubt the Royal Commission (into the banking industry) showed that banks need to lift their game when it comes to vulnerable customers, particularly in the design of products and offering support services,” Ms Bligh said.

“Customers from all walks of life can experience financial vulnerability at one time or another, for example when exiting a violent relationship or an unexpected serious illness strikes.

“The industry is eager to hear from the community on what they think should be in this new guideline, including views from the public along with stakeholder groups.

“Banks will work with the community, incorporating feedback from this consultation process, to develop the new guideline.”

CEO of Financial Counselling Australia Fiona Guthrie said the consultation was an important step in lifting the bar on how banks supported vulnerable customers.

“At some point in our lives, many of us could find ourselves in situations, such as financial hardship, physical or mental illness, relationship breakdown or even cognitive impairment as we age,” Ms Guthrie said.

“We need to know our banks will be there to support us through the good and the bad times.

“Banks play a pivotal role in our community and they are taking a lead in this work. We hope it will encourage other industries to do the same.”

To have your say and for more information on how to make a submission click here.

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