Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

What is financial abuse?

Abuse can take many different forms, one of which is financial abuse. The charity Women’s Aid has defined it as: “A perpetrator using or misusing money which limits and controls their partner’s current and future actions and their freedom of choice.”

This form of abuse may be harder to spot than physical or emotional abuse due to the nature of most couples having some sort of shared finances. Stealing money, setting up joint accounts without consent, and controlling money by giving them “allowances” may all be signs of financial abuse. Whilst this form of abuse may not be easy to identify, it is unfortunately often linked to other forms of domestic abuse, such as physical. The charity Surviving Economic Abuse claims that 95% of people who experience domestic abuse in the UK also experience some form of financial abuse. This is an absolutely shocking statistic and shows how many forms of abuse can often be linked.

It is important to remember that even though financial abuse is most commonly experienced by women in relationships, this is not always the case. Men and non-binary people can also experience financial abuse. Another thing to bear in mind is that whilst abuse usually happens within households, friends or family members who live elsewhere could also be perpetrators of financial or other forms of abuse.

Stealing money, setting up joint accounts without consent and controlling money by giving them “allowances” may all be signs of financial abuse

The pandemic has had numerous economic and social effects on society. Unfortunately, the increase in financial abuse is just one of these. Due to the current economic situation, it is much easier for abuse to be disguised as financial struggles. With many families on a lower income, taking control of one’s money or issuing “allowances” may not immediately be recognised as financial abuse. Another factor that adds to the increase of financial abuse is the lack of discreet helplines. Numerous charities are equipped to assist those experiencing financial abuse, however the quickest way to reach them is usually to phone and explain your situation. Many people have been staying at home for prolonged periods of time, hence making it even harder for them to reach help. For many victims, phoning such an organisation in front of the perpetrator is not an option.

So, with rising cases of financial abuse, some have begun to wonder whether banks should be doing more to try tackle this nationwide issue. Monzo is the first bank to have introduced a technological tool designed specifically for victims of financial abuse. This is a form of traceless messaging that can be reached from the Help section of the app. This can be used to alert Monzo of any money situation that you may have found yourself in, it is not solely for reporting abuse. However, the information is passed on to the Vulnerable Customers team which will be able to identify customers who may need extra help. Monzo currently has 20 specialists who have been trained to look out for signs of financial abuse. If they suspect abuse is taking place, they can offer you support and options of where to go next all via the discreet messaging service. This is a useful feature for victims who may be subject to phone call and email checks from their perpetrator.

For many victims, phoning such an organisation in front of the perpetrator is not an option

Another feature Monzo has is the ability to set up a phrase which you can use in the case of an emergency. For example, a customer could set up a phrase such as “my chip and pin is broken” which would allow Monzo to contact the authorities on their behalf. This may seem quite extreme to someone who has never experienced abuse, however it is a very useful feature for those who may not be able to call the authorities themselves.

Lloyds, Halifax, and the Bank of Scotland all have a Domestic and Financial Abuse Team who are able to give guidance and redirections to relevant charities. This is great, however these services can only be reached over the phone or in person. This is not possible for everyone which is why a discreet messaging service is so revolutionary.

Banks still have a long way to go in regard to supporting their customers. However, the banking sector is looking for innovative ways to identify and help customers who may be victims of financial abuse. They are investigating how artificial intelligence may be used to help analyse transactional data and notice irregularities. This may not identify every case of financial abuse, but it would be a good start. It is unclear when there will be new systems like this in place, but the fact that banks need to step up is evident.

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