The way we manage our finances has changed, but there is help for those of us who need it
We all feel a little more vulnerable as we emerge, flashing in the light, out of the pandemic. We had to change the way we do all kinds of things, and for many that included managing our finances differently.
We’re contactless, revolutionary, paid by Apple, and transfer money online rather than using cash. But many find it extremely difficult.
Research last year found that 11% of adults admit to needing the help of others to manage and access their money, but after one was locked in in 2020, only a third had regained control of their own. finances.
“Vulnerable customers” are more than a checkbox for financial institutions. The Consumer Protection Code requires financial institutions to identify and help people with physical or mental disabilities, cognitive impairments, “lower financial capabilities”, or those who are numerically disadvantaged, to manage their money.
It is important for most of us to be in control of our own finances for as long as possible, but it can be more difficult as we age, in an increasingly digital world, or when we need help with them. daily activities.
All full-service banks and credit unions now have dedicated helplines for people who need additional assistance.
They provide training for branch staff to spot unusual activity, especially in the area of elder financial abuse (see below for how to spot them).
Someone who only withdraws their pension every week in search of thousands of dollars suddenly would be an example.
A bank clerk might take them aside to gently inquire about his purpose or make sure they are not under duress. They may have to sign a form for this purpose.
Simple steps – like AIB’s Jam (Just A Minute) card shown to staff to indicate that you need a little extra time for your transactions, or the Bank of Ireland’s Carer’s Card to let staff know. who are confined to their homes can nominate someone else to withdraw the money – are small but important ways to help the most vulnerable.
It’s a fine line. The GDPR does not allow mining of personal account data, and many highly skilled seniors would be appalled to be targeted as “vulnerable.”
Sage Advocacy is working with banks on this issue. “We would like to see a lot more investment in this area from financial institutions and banking groups,” he says. “We also want to see more initiatives from financial institutions that recognize that not everyone is computer literate or can easily grasp online or phone banking and that in-person support is extremely valuable to people. elderly and vulnerable adults. Research by UCD’s National Center for the Protection of the Elderly (NCPOP) has shown that financial abuse is the most commonly reported type of abuse when it comes to older people.
But it’s not just retirees. Vulnerable customers can include those with a gambling addiction. The Covid lockdown has seen an increase in the number of people risking their money online. Flutter, the owner of Paddy Power, saw his profits increase 106% last year and some of those who were introduced to betting for the first time will become addicted.
According to Problemgambling.ie, Ireland has the third highest gambling loss rate per adult in the world and the Department of Health estimates that more than 30,000 people are addicted to gambling. Many online bookies (including Paddy Power) have self-exclusion lists where you can ban your own play for several months.
While welcome for vulnerable customers, UK bookmaker 888 was fined nearly £ 8million (€ 9.35million) by its regulator in 2017 for continuing to allow 7,000 self-excluded customers who bet millions when they shouldn’t.
We don’t have a game regulator here, although an office needs to be set up.
Vulnerable clients can be of any age. People between the ages of 18 and 24 are particularly at risk of their bank accounts being used for fraudulent purposes to transfer (launder) money from criminal organizations. This is a criminal offense in itself, although the young adult may not see the problem.
Their account is used to temporarily deposit money and they get a nice fee, so what’s the problem? Well, it can and has led to an arrest and conviction, with up to 14 years in prison, and it could impact their credit rating, future employment, or even getting a US visa. .
Banks are looking for accounts that work as potential mules, especially accounts of vulnerable young people who are new to the country or struggling with tuition fees.
The Utilities Regulatory Commission requires electricity providers to keep a register of vulnerable customers for those at risk of being cut but who are critically dependent on medical devices or are at risk in winter. This is good news, especially for people with very low incomes who need to be helped by their energy company.
If you think you fall into this category, it is worth informing your supplier.
How to detect financial abuse
It can be very difficult to spot financial abuse of seniors, even from the person being abused.
Your adult son offers to help you by collecting your pension at the post office and using your debit card to go shopping.
A niece asks to borrow money for a car loan, promising to pay it back in a few months.
Your daughter offers a joint account with her so that you don’t forget to pay your bills on time.
Some, all or none of them could constitute abuse. This is the reason why we all now have separate PIN codes, text codes to verify and jump hoops just to do whatever we want with our own money.
There are simple things you can do to minimize financial abuse:
– If you need help or more time with your banking operations, ask your bank for help first, by phone or in person. They will be happy to help you.
– Never sign blank checks for any reason.
– Never give out the code or the details of your bank card, unless you are initiating the transaction (for example, buying or reserving something by phone).
– Shred or tear up invoices, receipts and statements before disposing of them.
– Keep a close eye on bank statements for unusual transactions. If you prefer paper to email, that’s okay – your bank is obligated to mail them to you.
– The HSE operates a hotline to report suspected abuse (1850 24 1850) from Monday to Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.