Domestic and family violence is frequently associated with the physical. Unfortunately, it’s an incredibly widespread issue in Australia that doesn’t discriminate against people based on their age, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity. In fact, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2017 Personal Safety Survey, approximately one in six  women have experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of a current or former partner since the age of 15. Meanwhile, data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found 1 in 16 men have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a cohabiting partner since age 15.

However, not all domestic and family violence is physical. It can often be verbal, emotional, psychological and financial. A recent survey conducted by YouGov and commissioned by Commonwealth Bank showed that almost 40 per cent of Australians say they have experienced or know someone who has experienced financial abuse.

What is financial abuse?

Financial abuse is a serious form of domestic and family violence, and considered a hidden epidemic in Australia.

Perpetrators will often take control of their partner’s finances, coercing them into taking out debts, or refusing to contribute financially to household expenses to gain power or control.

People experiencing financial abuse can also be forbidden from working or studying, with their partner sabotaging their ability to find a job now or in the future.

All of these are methods of control and can be used to keep someone trapped in an abusive relationship.

How is CommBank helping?

Commonwealth Bank is committed to extending and expanding support for people impacted by financial abuse, as a result of domestic and family violence.

The Bank has taken action in three key areas: leading the industry in providing care for vulnerable customers; expanding support for long-term recovery; and helping to raise public awareness and increase action in response to the issue.

Over the past five years Commonwealth Bank has committed $30 million to helping people who are experiencing domestic and family violence and in July 2020 launched the Next Chapter program.

Next Chapter encompasses a range of initiatives, including changes to the bank’s policy regarding acceptable use of electronic banking; a revision of the leave policy for the bank’s employees; the creation of a Community Wellbeing team to support customers impacted by DFV with their immediate banking needs; and the launch of a Financial Independence Hub - delivered by Good Shepherd and funded by Commonwealth Bank.

Financial Independence Hub

The Financial Independence Hub offers free one-on-one financial coaching to help those people who have been previously impacted by domestic and financial abuse establish a pathway to long-term financial recovery – regardless of who they bank with.

Stella Avramopoulos, Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand CEO, said the Financial Independence Hub had been developed in close consultation with people with lived experience of financial abuse, and support from a reference group of sector leaders and academic experts.

“Good Shepherd has a long history of supporting those impacted by family violence. We know that financial abuse is widespread and that it can be devastating. Our front-line staff see the impact of financial abuse every day.

“We see people, primarily women, with bad credit histories or huge debt forced on them by abusive, controlling partners and often without access to their own money who don’t know how they will feed their kids. We know that financial inclusion and capability can be the key to changing a life.”

Community wellbeing Team

Also part of the Next Chapter program is the newly created specialist Community Wellbeing team.

The team have developed trauma-informed approaches to providing support to customers experiencing vulnerability, taking guidance from Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia, the national experts in trauma-specialist practice.

The Community Wellbeing team provides confidential support to help customers with their immediate banking needs, including direct financial assistance, safe banking support and referrals to external experts as required.

Making banking safer

In addition to the Financial Independence Hub and Community Wellbeing team, the Bank has sought to address the use of technology-facilitated abuse to provide a safer banking experience for customers.

Commonwealth Bank became aware of a situation where a customer was sending abusive messages in banking transaction descriptions. Further investigation revealed the problem was more widespread and over a three month period we discovered that more than 8,000 customers had received multiple low-value deposits, often less than $1, with abusive and potentially threatening messages in the transaction descriptions.

To combat this problem, Commonwealth Bank changed its ‘Acceptable Use’ policy, so that any customer found to be using NetBank or the CommBank app to engage in unlawful, defamatory, harassing or threatening conduct, promoting or encouraging physical or mental harm or violence against any person, may have their transactions refused or access to digital banking services suspended or discontinued.

Protecting Staff

But it isn’t just customers Commonwealth Bank is supporting. Bank employees who are affected by domestic and family violence can now access unlimited paid leave.

Further, employees who are helping an immediate family member or member of their household remove themselves from an abusive relationship, are provided with five days paid leave.

Sian Lewis, Group Executive of Human Resources at CommBank, said: “Due to the size of our workforce and the horrifying scale of this issue in our community, we know we have many people who work here who are directly impacted by domestic and family violence.

“As one of Australia’s largest employers, it is our responsibility to support our people when they need it the most. This may include time away from work to navigate the immediate crisis, attend medical appointments, meet with counsellors, secure safe housing, or to meet legal obligations.”

Increasing our understanding of financial abuse

Commonwealth Bank, in partnership with UNSW’s Gendered Violence Research Network, has released a new research paper with areas of focus for financial institutions to provide better support for people impacted by economic and financial abuse through intimate partner relationships.

The paper, authored by Jan Breckenridge, Professor and Co-Convenor UNSW Gendered Violence Research Network, and titled ‘Understanding Economic and Financial Abuse in Intimate Partner Relationships’, is the first in a six-part series that will provide one of the most comprehensive compendiums of evidence and information about financial abuse within Australia to date.

Ms Lewis, said: “Financial abuse is a hidden epidemic affecting thousands of Australians who are experiencing domestic and family violence. Yet, there is limited academic evidence on the issue making it difficult to develop and deliver effective support for people impacted. The purpose of this research series is to improve our understanding of the issue so we as a bank, and as a society, can improve our responses and support.”

Where to from here?

Financial abuse in the context of domestic and family violence is a hidden epidemic. Since 2015, Commonwealth Bank has been working with community organisations and experts to address this issue and better understand where they can have the greatest impact.

Looking ahead, Commonwealth Bank CEO Matt Comyn said: “We want to make it easier for victims and survivors to break free of the financial shackles of their abusers and to get the help they need to start the next chapter of their lives and achieve long-term financial independence.”

More information on the action CBA is taking to address domestic and financial abuse is available at:

Important information

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) or visit This is a free and confidential service that is not part of Commonwealth Bank.

For counselling, advice and support call MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978 or

In an emergency or if you’re not feeling safe, always call 000.