A new report, produced by UNSW’s Gendered Violence Research Network in partnership with Commonwealth Bank, has identified the need for financial institutions to provide culturally appropriate support for Indigenous Australians who are impacted by financial and economic abuse.

The paper, titled ‘Understanding Economic and Financial Abuse in First Nations Communities and authored by Professor Jan Breckenridge, Co-Convenor UNSW Gendered Violence Research Network, is the second in a six-part series planned under the partnership. Each report in the series is based on a comprehensive review of academic and relevant policy literature to create a compendium of current evidence on financial abuse.

In acknowledging the prevalence of financial and economic abuse in First Nations communities, the report found First Nations communities nationally and internationally may be at greater risk due to factors such as cultural expectations surrounding shared wealth and financial management, and caregiving roles in families. Additional factors including economic hardship and systematic disadvantage were also identified as contributing to the higher risk.

Looking at the role financial institutions can play in helping address the issue, the report highlighted the importance of understanding First Nations cultures when responding to abuse, particularly with regards to financial literacy programs and providing financial help that is aligned with cultural values.

Commonwealth Bank’s Group Executive Human Resources, Sian Lewis, said: “Financial and economic abuse can affect anyone, but this report shows Indigenous peoples impacted by this issue may face unique challenges and barriers that require targeted and culturally-informed responses. As part of our Elevate Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) we provide culturally aligned banking support and services for our Indigenous customers, but the report highlights the need to continue to work collaboratively with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people so that we can extend support to our Indigenous customers impacted by financial and economic abuse.”

In line with the findings of the report, the bank will boost the training it provides to its customer facing teams to support them in delivering more effective and culturally appropriate support to Indigenous customers in vulnerable circumstances, like those impacted by financial and economic abuse. To deliver this, the bank is working with Indigenous majority-owned business, Arrilla Indigenous Consulting, a team that specialises in Indigenous cultural competency training for the Australian workforce, to develop a new training program that will help the bank’s teams to provide banking services with more empathy, respect and compassion. The training will commence later in the year.

In addition, the bank has also partnered with ICAN Learn (Indigenous Assistance Consumer Network) to deliver an Indigenous and Multicultural Scholarships Program for students to complete a Diploma in Financial Counselling. The partnership with ICAN will support diversity, by building the representation of Indigenous and multicultural financial counsellors within the broader financial counselling sector.

Professor Jan Breckenridge, said: “With little research focusing on the issue of economic and financial abuse in the context of First Nations communities, it’s vital to work in partnership with experts – particularly within Indigenous communities – to increase community and industry understanding of financial abuse, and educate the community. The purpose of the paper is not only to shed light on the issue but to act as a catalyst for change. We hope other organisations will find it useful in helping to shape their own responses.”

Bern Pasco, Executive Officer, ICAN Learn said: “At ICAN, we deliver financial counselling services and consumer advocacy to empower members of First Nations communities to become leaders for change. Through our work we see the impact of financial and economic abuse in these communities and the importance of culturally-informed programs. We welcome this research from Commonwealth Bank (CBA) and UNSW, and value their commitment to better understand how to support Indigenous peoples through financial and economic abuse. With many facing barriers in accessing financial support due to cultural differences and systematic disadvantage, this report will allow for practical solutions that ensure the Indigenous community is able to receive vital support.

“In addition, we would like to thank CBA for its partnership to deliver the Indigenous and Multicultural Scholarship Program, which supports participants to gain a Diploma of Financial Counselling as well as an accredited skillset in financial literacy education. Ensuring we increase the representation of Indigenous and multicultural financial counsellors is imperative to helping provide culturally appropriate support to those in vulnerable circumstances.”

CBA has made the paper publicly available in the hope that other organisations, industry and government can also use and implement the findings.

About the research

Conducted by UNSW and funded by Commonwealth Bank, the six-part research series will provide one of the most comprehensive compendiums of evidence and information about financial abuse within Australia to date. The first paper was released in November 2020. Part of the bank’s Next Chapter program, the research complements a range of services, support and resources to shed light on the issue of financial abuse and make it easier for victims and survivors to achieve long-term financial independence.

Important information

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

For counselling, advice and support call Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491 or ntv.org.au/get-help.

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