Tags: Money & finances Standard of living Future security

It's about doing the right thing. By considering an individual's circumstances and providing alternatives, the bank aims to help break the cycle of abuse and restore financial security and wellbeing for survivors.” — Matthew Ricker, CEO, Australian Unity Bank

Key points

  • Financial abuse is a pervasive and insidious issue, with abusers exerting control over victims' finances. It is often accompanied by other forms of domestic violence.

  • The consequences of financial abuse are far-reaching, impacting victims' wellbeing, mental health, independence and ability to access their social networks, and potentially leading to displacement or homelessness.

  • But help is at hand to break the cycle. Australian Unity Bank has changed its application process to assist people experiencing financial abuse and domestic violence to overcome limitations they may encounter when accessing financial services and products.

We all want to feel in control of our finances, but what happens when someone close to you manipulates and restricts your access to money? Financial abuse, a tactic used to exert power and control, is a pervasive issue that is often accompanied by other forms of domestic violence.

Financial abuse is a significant issue that is recognised in domestic and family violence legislation in every Australian state and territory, and its consequences are far-reaching. It affects emotional wellbeing, mental health, independence and social networks, and can even lead to homelessness or displacement.

Having spent more than 20 years studying Australians' wellbeing through the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index, we know that financial security is fundamental to our personal wellbeing. This article explores some of the ways that organisations like Australian Unity Bank and the Women’s Information and Referral Exchange (WIRE) are empowering survivors to break free, reclaim their agency and restore their future security.

Understanding financial abuse

Unlike other forms of abuse, financial abuse doesn't leave visible scars. Victims often think it's a normal aspect of a relationship, so it's crucial to be aware of the warning signs.

Financial abuse can encompass:

  • Financial control: An abuser takes complete control of their victim’s finances, removing their access to bank accounts, denying access to funds or dictating how money is spent.
  • Manipulation: The abuser uses threats, intimidation or emotional manipulation to force a victim to give them money or make financial decisions they wouldn't otherwise make.
  • Exploitation: The abuser uses a victim’s money without permission, forging signatures and exploiting their financial resources for personal gain.
  • Identity theft or fraud: The abuser impersonates the victim to take over their bank accounts or take out a loan in the victim’s name.
  • Isolation: The abuser forces a victim to depend on them for money, transport and basic necessities, isolating them and affecting their ability to interact with their support networks.

To illustrate the reality of financial abuse, Mona Meighan draws on some examples she’s witnessed in her role as Head of Financial Crime at Australian Unity Bank. This includes an ex-husband pressuring the bank to force the sale of a family home, leaving his wife and children without financial support. In another case, a customer transferred her elderly mother's savings into her own personal account without declaring it to her mother's estate.

Spotting the signs

Joy Mason, a financial counsellor and Money Mindset Project Lead at WIRE, a leading service delivery organisation supporting women, nonbinary and gender diverse people across Victoria, explains that spotting the signs of financial abuse means questioning the behaviour of the person you suspect is being abused.

“To recognise financial abuse or coercion in people you deal with involves gentle questioning and good listening skills,” says Joy. “Does the person seem unsure about financial issues in the household or family? Do they have equal access to money in the family? Do they have debt that they didn’t apply for? Do they seem vague about family finances? And do they often have no money or are elusive and non-committal about attending events that may cost money?

“These may be the signs that someone is struggling with financial abuse and are controlled through money by their partner or another family member.”

The impact of financial abuse on personal wellbeing

The impact of financial abuse extends far beyond the immediate loss of financial resources. It can erode a person's independence, disrupt their social networks and severely affect their wellbeing.

Losing independence and social networks takes a toll on emotional wellbeing and mental health,” explains Mona. “Victims can feel helpless, hopeless and alone. In extreme cases, it can result in homelessness or displacement from family and friends.”

There can be long-lasting financial effects too, with victims struggling to access stable housing as a result of damaged credit ratings, or finding it difficult to gain employment due to a long absence from the workforce.

“All of this can exacerbate impacts on physical and mental wellbeing, which becomes a cycle that victims may find hard to break. Financial abuse presents a significant barrier to victims leaving abusive situations.”

Recognising these profound implications, Australian Unity Bank decided to change its application process to assist people experiencing financial abuse and domestic violence—as well as those from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities—so they may be given the opportunity to access financial products without standard documentation. These special provisions include working with the individual to understand where they face limitations in completing the application process, and supporting them where possible with alternate processes.

Empowering survivors to break the cycle

Matthew Ricker, CEO of Australian Unity Bank, highlights the principle of fairness as the driving force behind the changes.

It's about doing the right thing,” he says.By considering an individual's circumstances and providing alternatives, the bank aims to help break the cycle of abuse and restore financial security and wellbeing for survivors.”

Mona notes that Australian Unity Bank maintains standard procedures to collect and verify identity information, but highlights that certain customer groups may require alternatives, such as those fleeing domestic violence, refugees, or people who are homeless or live remotely. The bank has implemented more flexible arrangements to support these customers, including documented “special provisions” as part of their customer identification procedures.

“This means we are working to support these customer groups to ensure they have timely access to essential financial services. Having this up front as a ‘tool in the toolbox’ for staff responsible for onboarding customers removes unnecessary friction and improves our customers’ experience in banking with us.”

Joy agrees that initiatives like those implemented by Australian Unity Bank are important.

“People experiencing domestic violence often leave the abusive situation in a hurry with no or few documents to establish identification. This leaves them in an increased vulnerable state as they need to have a bank account as a basic requirement to re-establish their lives and attend to financial matters—for example, Centrelink payments are paid into a bank account.”

Help is at hand

Financial abuse is a profoundly damaging method of exerting control, with long-lasting and far-reaching impacts on victims' lives.

Matthew stresses that recognising and understanding survivors' circumstances helps to empower them to break free from the cycle of abuse.

“Throughout our engagement, and by offering financial support, the bank assures survivors that they are not at fault and that their experiences matter,” he says.

“It goes a long way towards restoring a sense of dignity and contributes to people reclaiming some ownership and agency so that they can move forward, break the cycle and reclaim their lives.”

Australian Unity Bank customers escaping financial abuse, or experiencing a change in their personal circumstances, can contact the bank’s Financial Resolution team on 1300 790 740 to discuss options available to them, including applying for a life moments consideration.


Support and help

If you are the victim of financial abuse, or know someone who needs help, support is available.

The National Debt Helpline provides free access to specialist financial counsellors, who can provide advice and support to people who are experiencing domestic and family violence.


ASIC’s Moneysmart website provides information about accessing money when in crisis, financial counselling, managing debt and hardship.


WIRE also provides free support services, which you can access by:


Information provided in this article is of a general nature. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest. Interviewee names and titles were accurate at the time of writing.