Signs Of Financial Abuse

Posted on 06/27/2024

In blogs 1, 2, 3 , 4 and 5 in this series on financial abuse, we announced Program SAFE, described the possible prevalence for financial abuse and some of Grameen’s early experiences studying financial abuse in Honduras, proposed practical steps financial service providers (FSPs) can take to address financial abuse, described Grameen’s use of its Exploring Power Dynamics workshop as a critical starting point for addressing norms within financial service providers themselves, and described how to design financial services with safety in mind.

As the previous blogs have described, even people experiencing financial abuse may not be aware that they are experiencing abuse because it can be normalized behavior. But no matter whether it is “normal” or perceived as abuse, it is disempowering and demoralizing.

To understand the potential for addressing financial abuse within the social and financial inclusion sector, looking towards some of the largest financial institutions in high-income countries has provided us with some inspiration and and in some cases, a stark reality that there is still so much to do in high-income countries, too. I recently came across three videos from BNP Paribas, one of the European Union’s top banks. BNP has been working to address economic abuse inside their banking institutions and investments, as well as to address it at the client level. The videos below, in my opinion, demonstrate why economic abuse can be hard to detect among clients, and why it can be so easily normalized and perpetrated. In a short summary, the videos show a woman separated from her spouse asking for child support owed as she’s raising their children, a woman who confronts her husband from depleting their savings account without her knowledge or consent, and a woman reminded by her husband why she cannot use a joint checking account for her own needs (and only for purchases that benefit both of them), despite her husband being the higher income earner. These are a fantastic way to raise awareness of what economic abuse can look like and I suspect many women can likely identify with them, regardless of their age, income status, etc.

BNP Paribas Economic Violence Videos

This is not a video of cats:

This is not a cat video either:

This is still not a cat video:

From a financial service provider (FSP) perspective, however, how could a frontline staff person recognize the signs of financial abuse in order to act on it? Surviving Economic Abuse, in their publication, Understanding and identifying economic abuse, provides the following signs. The client may:

  • Remain silent while another party does all the talking
  • Instruct you to speak to their partner
  • Seem to be taking instructions from their partner
  • Appear withdrawn, fearful, distressed or scared
  • Not understand or be aware of recently completed transactions or loans in their name
  • Ask questions about the other account holder’s behavior or activities
  • Have income paid into their partner’s account rather than their own
  • Have special concerns about protecting their personal privacy or safety, or the security of their account/s
  • Withdraw a large, unusual or uncharacteristic amount of cash when accompanied by their partner
  • Have a partner who withdraws a large amount from a joint account
  • Want to close down a joint bank account, or close a personal account when opening a joint account
  • ‘Spoil’ an application form (perhaps for the opportunity for a call from the bank and a chance to say what is happening)
  • Indicate their mail is no longer being delivered to their home
  • Tell you about an intervention order or similar, and have safety concerns

Catherine Fitzpatrick, in her publication, Designed to Disrupt: Reimagining banking products to improve financial safety wrote: “In practice, it is rare that a customer discloses their experience of domestic and family violence to a business without the expectation that it would be taken into account during service delivery. Typically, customers reveal distressing, detailed accounts of their lives in hope of an empathetic, confidential and flexible response with safety at the heart.”

In our next blog, we want to unpack the research and documented experiences of how couples manage money together, and the implications of this research on addressing financial abuse.

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