How can financial institutions better address economic and financial abuse?

New research from UNSW's Gendered Violence Research Network (GVRN) explores current knowledge of financial abuse in Australia and looks at ways financial services can better support victim-survivors.

Authored by Professor Jan Breckenridge, the paper ‘Understanding Economic and Financial Abuse in Intimate Partner Relationships’ is the first in series of research reports funded by Commonwealth Bank (CBA) that aims to increase the public awareness of financial abuse and generate practical responses to assist those impacted by it.

Based on a comprehensive review of academic literature, the paper makes a number of key findings about financial and economic abuse:

  • Traditional gendered expectations regarding the management of finances can facilitate economically and financially abusive behaviours.
    Where traditionally gendered practices of financial management exist within an intimate relationship, it may be difficult for the person affected by financial abuse to recognise the perpetrator’s tactics as abuse.
  • Economic and financial abuse frequently occur alongside other forms of IPV.
    Research also indicates that economic and financial abuse can often be heavily intertwined with other forms of IPV. Other family members may also participate in the abuse and control – often referred to as ‘lateral violence’.
  • Economic and financial abuse can lead to economic and financial hardship and insecurity among victims-survivors.
    The consequences of these behaviours can have ongoing and long-term consequences for victims-survivors, including to their housing and employment security.
  • Factors contributing to the risk of economic and financial abuse victimisation include socio-demographic, relationship, health, attitudinal and institutional factors.
    Factors contributing to economic and financial hardship and insecurity in the context of economic abuse included refugee and/or migrant status, lack of sufficient social security, experiencing depression, and being older.

The paper notes there are a range of promising approaches and strategies to preventing and responding to economic and financial abuse emerging from the financial services, government, legal and education industry.

To help financial institutions better address the issue, the paper outlines the key areas for consideration when analysing customer support measures, including:

  • Examining ways in which victim-survivors of economic and financial abuse may benefit from tailored financial products.
    These may include microfinance, advance payments, savings initiatives, and asset-building programs to enable their financial inclusion and capacity.
  • Establishing a specialist Domestic and Family Violence (DFV) team to assess the potential for products and procedures to be misused by perpetrators to coercively control and abuse their partner.
    Financial institution’s products and procedures can be manipulated by perpetrators to create financial insecurity and hardship.
  • Providing training for specialist DFV teams that includes the links between economic and financial abuse and other forms of intimate partner violence, and the economic and financial abuse tactics that can occur after the end of the relationship.
    This should include awareness of domestic and family violence more broadly, how to implement organisational guidelines ensuring safety of customers and referral options should there be a disclosure.
  • Financial institutions could provide content through youth education programs to further develop and support financial capability and financial management.
    Research suggests young people may adopt gendered practices of financial management in their relationships that could lead to being more susceptible to economic and financial abuse, which disadvantage young women in particular.

UNSW's GVRN was among a number of organisations who received financial support from CBA this year to produce research to improve the lives of people affected by financial abuse in the context of domestic and family violence. 

This research forms part of the CBA's Next Chapter program, which is partnering with services on the production of resources and research to shed light on the issue of financial abuse and ways to make it easier for victims and survivors to achieve long-term financial independence. CBA is also a Principal Sponsor of RLC's Financial Abuse Service NSW.

RLC's Financial Abuse Service NSW welcomes collaborations between researchers and financial services to better understand and address financial and economic abuse. This research series will provide one of the most comprehensive collections of evidence and information about financial abuse in Australia. 

CBA has made this UNSW paper publicly available and has shared its findings with the Australian Banking Association, in the hope that other organisations, industry and government can also use and implement the findings.

Download the research paper here