This month marks one year since Commonwealth Bank (CommBank) extended its support for people impacted by financial abuse, perpetrated through domestic and family violence, with the launch of CommBank’s Next Chapter. The program, which focuses on three key areas - support, advocacy and prevention – seeks to address the hidden epidemic of financial abuse in Australia and assist impacted customers and members of the community achieve long-term financial independence.

Since 2015, CommBank has been working with community organisations and experts to better understand the issue of financial abuse and expanded this support in 2020 with Next Chapter. Across its three focus areas, the program aims to lead the industry in providing care for customers impacted by domestic violence, expand support for long-term recovery, increase community and industry understanding of financial abuse, and fix known issues within CommBank’s own products and services.

Reflecting on the twelve months since its launch, CommBank Group Executive Human Resources Sian Lewis, said CommBank has been proud to work with industry partners to ensure the bank develops solutions that provide the right support in the right way.

“Financial abuse is one of the most powerful ways a perpetrator can keep someone trapped in an abusive relationship and may even impact on that person’s ability to stay safe once they leave the relationship. It can be felt in various ways, and may include the perpetrator controlling an individual’s access to their bank accounts, coercing them into taking out debts, or hiding money or assets.”

“With one in four Australian adults saying they have experienced financial abuse, this is a widespread issue that can clearly have devastating consequences. As Australia’s largest bank, we have a responsibility to help those impacted and in close collaboration with experts and sector partners, the ability to make a real difference.”

“In its first year, CommBank Next Chapter has made immense progress with the launch of multiple support services and educational materials - and several key milestones reached. With the development of such initiatives, we have been able to help more victim-survivors feel in control of their everyday finances, be confident in making decisions about money and achieve their long-term financial goals,” Ms Lewis said.

Lead the industry in providing care for customers

This year saw the expansion and upskilling of CommBank’s Community Wellbeing team, providing customers experiencing vulnerability access to confidential, trauma-informed support to help them with their financial safety and wellbeing. The specialist team is trained to provide support to customers experiencing domestic and family violence and financial abuse situations, problem gambling and other personal or financial circumstances that impact on their financial wellbeing.

As at 20 June 2021, the team has had over 22,500 interactions with customers in vulnerable circumstances to help provide extra care and support, including access to safe banking and referrals to external experts as appropriate.

It is through this referral process and the bank’s long-standing partnership with Fitted for Work that CommBank has recently helped its 1,000th female customer impacted by domestic and family violence gain employment. Customers in vulnerable circumstances who contact the bank and require assistance getting back into the workforce are referred to the program, with 70 per cent going on to engage with it.

Expand support for long-term recovery

The Financial Independence Hub (FIH) is a specialised service helping people who have experienced financial abuse establish a pathway to long-term financial recovery – no matter who they bank with. The Hub was co-designed by people with lived experience and Good Shepherd, and launched as part of CommBank Next Chapter. For the past 12 months the Hub has been operating as a ‘Living Lab’ to test and refine all aspects of the service resulting in a scaled up, fully operational service since 1 July 2021. 

Delivered by Good Shepherd, a leader in financial inclusion products and services, and funded by CommBank, the FIH provides free, one-on-one financial coaching and support to help those impacted by financial abuse get back on their feet, with referrals to extra support services and, where appropriate, access to solutions like no-interest-loans. The Hub’s goal is to support 10,000 people over four years to achieve long-term financial independence.

Increase public awareness and action

To increase community and industry understanding of financial abuse, CommBank has partnered with UNSW’s Gendered Violence Research Network to develop a ground-breaking research series to build the most comprehensive compendium of evidence about financial abuse within Australia to date.

The first three reports of the five-part series have been completed and released, and focus on how financial abuse impacts intimate partner relationships, First Nations’ communities and culturally and linguistically diverse communities. The two final reports focus on the impact of financial abuse for people with a disability and older people, and the next stage of research looks at how to identify, analyse and prevent financial abuse. 

CommBank has also collaborated with the Women’s Information and Referral Exchange (WIRE) on a program helping victim-survivors of family violence strengthen their job-seeking skills, find sustainable employment and achieve financial wellbeing. The 8-month Sustainable and Transformative Employment Pathways (STEP) program began in October 2020 with 90 per cent of participants already finding employment during their engagement with the program.  

In partnership with ICAN (Indigenous Consumer Assistance Network) Learn, the bank has also helped deliver an Indigenous and Multicultural Scholarships Program for students to complete an accredited Skillset in Financial Literacy Education and the Diploma in Financial Counselling. This initiative supports financial capability and diversity by increasing representation of Indigenous and multicultural people as professionals in the financial counselling and capability sectors with a focus on supporting people impacted by domestic and family violence.

Fix known issues with CBA’s own products and processes

CommBank is focused on preventing people using its own products and services to perpetrate abuse by implementing an automatic block on offensive and abusive language across its digital banking platforms. More recently, CommBank’s Data and Decision Science AI Lab has been working on using machine learning to better identify serious abusers, and support the Community Wellbeing team to prevent further abuse. Any findings or insights are shared with the Australian Banking Association, other banks and financial services organisations to ensure action can be taken on an industry-wide level.

Looking ahead to the next year of the program, Ms Lewis said: “Our long-standing commitment to addressing financial abuse means the next twelve months will see more research, resources and learnings go into Next Chapter. The program will continue to grow to better provide support to victim-survivors, improve their overall financial wellbeing and allow them to regain control of their lives.”

Learn more about CommBank’s Next Chapter and available support services here.