The new 2019 Banking Code of Practice could help provide more accessible banking for older Australian's living with dementia.
CEO of the Banking Code Compliance Committee (BCCC), Sally Davis, said a new code of conduct would set a standard for Australian banks, when it comes to dealing with older clients with cognitive impairments.
"There are some specific requirements now, that are in part four of the code, around inclusiveness, and accessibility, and relate directly to taking extra care with customers that may be vulnerable," she said.
"Clause 33 in particular requires that banks will have to train staff, to treat its vulnerable customers with sensitivity, respect, and compassion. Dementia would come under those vulnerabilities that requires banks to take extra care."
Illawarra Dementia Advisory Service manager Chris van-Zanen, said because dementia is a symptom of progressive diseases, without training it can be difficult to spot its effects.
"Generally the only people that pick up that somebody has a problem with their dementia is someone very close to them," he said.
"It'll have to be something fairly catastrophic before somebody at the bank tweaks to what's going on.
"We have major concerns with people who use ATMs and cards and things like that...that's one of the issues I guess involved with the new banking process that we're using these days. In the old days, people knew their bankers and the tellers knew their clients."
He said customers with dementia can sometimes remember their pin numbers but then don't recall they have withdrawn funds.
"They might put the money somewhere in their house and the next thing you know they've forgotten they've got it, so they go back to the bank and withdraw some more," he said.
We want to make sure people continue to make their own decisions for as long as possible. When that capacity ceases and they need other people to make decisions, we want to make sure those people act in their best interests. And if they stop doing so, there are consequences.Robert Fitzgerald, NSW Aging and Disability Commissioner
Dementia Australia CEO Maree McCabe, said banks should become more dementia friendly, as trained bank staff would be able to identify at risk clients who could be unaware they have the symptoms.
"One of the things about having a cognitive disability is that it's not obvious," she said.
"Flags to look for is someone might have difficulty using the ATM, or using technology, a withdrawal pattern of money might change over time, they might appear confused or stressed when going to the bank, and they might find the process of withdrawing or depositing funds to be quite stressful."
Ms McCabe also said it was important for bank staff to understand if a client is able to give informed consent.
She said a person may lose their capacity to give consent as the disease progresses, so people living with dementia will have a trusted advisor to help them with their finances.
In these cases bank staff should also be trained to look for signs of financial abuse.
"I think [financial abuse happens] more often than we would like to think," Ms McCabe said.
"Studies done around financial abuse often reveals it's family members. It's an opportunistic thing, it may be that someone caring for a loved one would feel entitled, and they have access, so they take the money."
NSW Aging and Disability Program commissioner Robert Fitzgerald, said while appointing a power of attorney was a good idea, he's seen a number of cases where financial abuse was actually committed by that designated person.
He said it's advisable to keep a strong network of people to monitor the power of attorney's decisions, even if that person is a trusted family member.
"Abuse of older people rarely starts off with a deliberate intent to abuse," Mr Fitzgerald said.
"There are people in our society that will exploit people, they will go out deliberately to seek financial gain, but the vast majority are actually family members or friends, who are well known to the older person."
Mr Fitzgerald believes internet banking is an easy way abusers can take control of someone's finances, as it provides an opportunity to abuse an older family member who has difficultly with technology.
"It often starts off as being helpful; I will help you with your financial decisions, I will help you with your internet banking, I will help you pay off your credit card bills and so on," he said.
"In the end that starts to change from 'I'll take a little bit here, and a little bit there', and in the end, we see very substantial financial abuse."
But both Ms McCabe and Mr Fitzgerald believe technology could be the key to tracking tell-tale signs of dementia or financial abuse.
"I was at a conference recently," Ms McCabe said, "and a bank overseas set up special products for people with dementia where they can only withdraw a certain amount of money a day. if they try and exceed that, it sends off an alert to a designated person, who can actually intervene.
"It may actually identify that someone is vulnerable to abuse, are possibly being coerced to hand out money to family members, neighbours or anybody. Banks are working hard to develop products that are supportive and are protective for people with cognitive impairment."
"We hope in time, technology can also be a way of tracking aberrant behaviours, or inappropriate conduct, picking up signs something is wrong, and also perhaps putting some safeguards in place," Mr Fitzgerald said.
"We want to make sure people continue to make their own decisions for as long as possible. When that capacity ceases and they need other people to make decisions, we want to make sure those people act in their best interests. And if they stop doing so, there are consequences."
Ms Davis said as the new code was integrated into Australian banks, the committee would be looking into new ways to support vulnerable customers and prevent financial abuse.
She said more evidence about internet banking abuse was needed before it became a factor they could address.
"We operate on a basis of highlighting where the risk areas are," she said.
"If we see that electronic access becomes a risk factor, then that will become an area that we will focus in on.
"But it actually can go either way, it can be an extraordinary useful tool for enabling people who have accessibility issues. You have to be careful not to make blanket statements about certain types of banking."
The new banking code came into effect on July 1 and over the next 12 months, the BCCC will be monitoring how banking groups transition into the new code of conduct.