CBA moves on technology-facilitated abuse

New Acceptable Use Policy makes digital banking safer for customers.

  • CBA identified customers sending potentially abusive messages in banking transaction descriptions.
  • New Acceptable Use Policy states it is unacceptable to use digital banking services to stalk, harass or intimidate any person.
  • These changes ensure customers can continue to enjoy the benefits of digital banking in a safe and secure way.

Commonwealth Bank is taking steps to address the issue of technology-facilitated abuse to provide a safer banking experience for customers.

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.

Catherine Fitzpatrick, General Manager of Community and Customer Vulnerability, said: “The message is simple, we can see you and we won’t tolerate the use of our digital banking platforms to facilitate abuse.

“After noticing disturbing messages in the account of a customer experiencing domestic and family violence, we conducted analysis to better understand the problem.

“We were horrified by both the scale and the nature of what we found. In a three month period, we identified more than 8,000 CBA customers who received multiple low-value deposits, often less than $1, with potentially abusive messages in the transaction descriptions – in effect using them as a messaging service. All genders were sending and receiving these messages, but the nature ranged from fairly innocuous ‘jokes’ using profanities to serious threats and clear references to domestic and family violence.

“The new acceptable use policy makes it clear that it is unacceptable to use our digital services to stalk, harass or intimidate any person and if we see this we may refuse transactions or close a perpetrator’s account entirely. We worked with experts, community partners and law enforcement to ensure they are aware of what we found and to help us to develop responses that will not have unintended consequences. In particular, we use the e-Safety Commissioner’s Safety by Design framework to guide us.

“Our customers should always feel safe using digital banking. These changes will ensure that all customers can continue to enjoy the benefits of digital banking in a safe and secure way and represents our first step to address the issue of technology-facilitated abuse.

“We are committed to improving the financial wellbeing of all Australians, including the most vulnerable and those impacted by domestic and financial abuse. We will continue to look for new and innovative ways to protect our customers, and have shared our findings with other banks and financial services organisations to ensure this issue is known across the industry.”

Anna Bligh, CEO of the Australian Banking Association, said: “The use of bank transaction communications as a vehicle for threatening abuse gives a shocking insight into the lengths that violent partners will go to threaten, harass and abuse. CBA have done their customers a great service in identifying this abuse and taking swift action to stop it.”

Julie Inman Grant, eSafety Commissioner, said: “Safety by Design encourages and assists industry to take a proactive and consistent approach to user safety, helping companies to innovate and invest in safety to improve the user experience for their customers. We are delighted that CBA has been guided by our Principles to better protect their customers.”

Financial abuse in the context of domestic and family violence is a hidden epidemic. Approximately one in four women and one in thirteen men in Australia have experienced violence by an intimate partner. Among those who seek support, up to 90 per cent are also affected by financial abuse.

Since 2015, CBA has been working with community organisations and experts to address this issue and better understand what more we can do to help, and where we can have the greatest impact. Over this time, we’ve committed $30 million to this issue, and our experience has given us a first-hand look at how big the need is.

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