Commonwealth Bank bans using banking service for abusive messages

From: RegTech Analyst

Hot on the heels of the industry doubling down on preventing financial abuse, one of Australia’s biggest banks has stepped up to prevent harassment and stalking through its services.

Commonwealth Bank has taken steps to address the problem of people using its NetBank or the CommBank app services to engage in unlawful, defamatory, harassing or threatening conduct, promoting or encouraging physical or mental harm or violence against any person.

Anyone found to be using the services that way may have their transactions refused or access to digital banking services suspended or discontinued.

“The message is simple, we can see you and we won’t tolerate the use of our digital banking platforms to facilitate abuse,” said Catherine Fitzpatrick, general manager of community and customer vulnerability at Commonwealth Bank.

She said that the move came after the bank had noticed that a customer was experiencing domestic abuse. As a result the bank researched the problem.

“We were horrified by both the scale and the nature of what we found,” Fitzpatrick said. “In a three month period, we identified more than 8,000 CBA customers who received multiple low-value deposits, often less than $1, with potentially abusive messages in the transaction descriptions – in effect using them as a messaging service. All genders were sending and receiving these messages, but the nature ranged from fairly innocuous ‘jokes’ using profanities to serious threats and clear references to domestic and family violence.

“The new acceptable use policy makes it clear that it is unacceptable to use our digital services to stalk, harass or intimidate any person and if we see this we may refuse transactions or close a perpetrator’s account entirely. We worked with experts, community partners and law enforcement to ensure they are aware of what we found and to help us to develop responses that will not have unintended consequences. In particular, we use the e-Safety Commissioner’s Safety by Design framework to guide us.

“Our customers should always feel safe using digital banking. These changes will ensure that all customers can continue to enjoy the benefits of digital banking in a safe and secure way and represents our first step to address the issue of technology-facilitated abuse.

“We are committed to improving the financial wellbeing of all Australians, including the most vulnerable and those impacted by domestic and financial abuse. We will continue to look for new and innovative ways to protect our customers, and have shared our findings with other banks and financial services organisations to ensure this issue is known across the industry.”

Anna Bligh, CEO of the Australian Banking Association, welcomed the initiative. “The use of bank transaction communications as a vehicle for threatening abuse gives a shocking insight into the lengths that violent partners will go to threaten, harass and abuse,” Blgh said. “CBA have done their customers a great service in identifying this abuse and taking swift action to stop it.”

Julie Inman Grant, eSafety Commissioner, added, “Safety by Design encourages and assists industry to take a proactive and consistent approach to user safety, helping companies to innovate and invest in safety to improve the user experience for their customers. We are delighted that CBA has been guided by our Principles to better protect their customers.”

The move comes on the back of the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (ASUTRAC) announced an initiative to fight back against financial abuse. The regulator did so by tweaking the rules regarding money laundering and terrorism financing in order to help people fleeing domestic abuse become financially independent more easily.

What the new rules will do is that they will enable banks and other businesses to accept alternative ways of identification if a customer is unable to produce their driver’s license or birth certificate, or show a different address.

AUSTRAC estimates that over two million Australians will experience financial abuse some time in their lives, with 63% of women experiencing financial stress having a background of financial abuse. The abuser uses violence and intimidation to restrict access to a person’s bank accounts, prevent them from working or accessing benefits, or withholds living expenses from them or their children.

Copyright © 2020 FinTech Global

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