Financial institutions staff

Banks and other financial institutions are often in an ideal position to identify the early signs of financial mismanagement and abuse. This is because bank staff can be first-hand, early witnesses to suspicious or out-of-character behaviour. In cases where an abuser is isolating an adult from friends and family, branch staff may be some of the few people who see the adult on a regular basis and can identify something isn’t quite right.

We encourage all banks to put internal processes in place to identify abuse and, when it is happening to Queensland-domiciled customers, to empower staff to report this to OPG. In our experience, financial abuse is often a hallmark of other more insidious forms of abuse and notifying us as early as possible may reduce harm to the victim. It can also help mitigate a bank’s losses because it’s often impossible to reclaim money taken from a customer’s account.

Online transactions

Many requests for investigation come from branch staff who can spot anomalies because of the face-to-face interaction with long-standing customers. However we acknowledge banking is being increasingly done online so more sophisticated techniques to identify financial abuse need to be developed.

It’s an investment worth making though, both for a bank’s customers and its bottom line. We’re already seeing some institutions putting initiatives in place, such as scrutinising online transactions for suspicious activity for customers known to reside in nursing homes.

OPG requests for information and privacy concerns

Bank staff frequently tell us that they are worried about breaching privacy laws by reporting customer information to OPG.

The investigative and information gathering powers granted to the Public Guardian under sections 19 and 22 of the Public Guardian Act 2014 expressly override any other privacy laws, regulations, or claims of privilege and confidentiality that bank staff generally work under. You are provided protection from liability for giving information under section 24 of the Act.

In many investigations we still need to contact a financial institution to request information about the adult’s accounts, even where the institution didn’t instigate the complaint.

If you receive a request for information about an adult’s accounts, we urge you to respond as promptly and fully as possible. Any delay in receiving information will slow down our investigation and may leave a vulnerable adult open to continued abuse.

Frequently asked questions — bank staff

Must I have proof that an adult is being abused?

No, it is our job to investigate allegations and determine whether abuse is taking place. It is enough for you to suspect that an adult is in some way being abused, neglected or exploited.

How do I know if an adult has impaired decision-making capacity?

Again, it is our role to establish if an adult may have impaired decision-making capacity. However you do need to have some grounds for suspecting a lack of capacity. To better understand what this may look like please read our information on understanding capacity.

It’s important to note that an adult can have capacity for some decisions and not others. We’re concerned with their capacity to make decisions about the financial matter in question. For example, if they want to transfer a large sum of money to someone else’s account, do they have the capacity to make that decision?

What if the adult seems to generally have capacity but I suspect they are being influenced to make certain financial decisions?

To have capacity to make a decision the adult must be able to:

  1. understand the nature and effect of decisions about the matter
  2. freely and voluntarily make decisions about the matter, and
  3. communicate decisions about the matter in some way.

If an adult cannot do all three of these, they do not have capacity for that matter. So if they are under undue influence it could be said that they cannot ‘freely and voluntarily make decisions about the matter’. In these instances you should report the matter to us so we can investigate and consider if there is a lack of capacity.

Can I remain anonymous?

Yes, you can remain anonymous. However, it can slow down the course of an investigation, as it may mean we take longer to obtain the information we need.

We know some bank staff, especially those from smaller communities, worry about being named in an investigation because they are concerned the alleged abuser will find out it was them. Please know that if the Public Guardian considers it appropriate to protect your identity we can remove information from our report that is likely to identify you.

What should I do if someone with third-party authority on an account notifies us that the principal has lost capacity and an Enduring Power of Attorney (EPA) is in effect?

You should immediately remove the third-party authority because that means the attorney must now act under EPA legislation. This means they are forbidden from undertaking conflict transactions (a transaction from the adult’s account that benefits the attorney or the attorney’s family or friends).

How do I report abuse to OPG?

You can report abuse by calling us on 1300 653 187 or completing our online form.

For more information

Our investigations brochure explains our investigations function and how OPG and financial institutions can work together to protect vulnerable Queenslanders.