19 Mar 2024

Westpac NZ has introduced an account block to support customers struggling with online gambling. 

Louisa Brock, Westpac NZ Manager Financial Inclusion and Vulnerability, leads the bank’s Extra Care team and says the optional block is something customers have been asking for. 

“We know gambling can become an addiction for some people, at which point it can cause significant harm. By introducing the gambling block, we’re empowering our customers to stay in control of their finances,” Ms Brock says.   

From 26 June - 25 September 2023, Westpac customers spent $136.8 million with online gambling merchants (compared with $3.2m spent at physical gambling locations in that period). Nearly half of that online spend was with TAB and Lotto, with the remainder distributed among various online gambling businesses. 

According to Te Whatu Ora, around 186,000 people in Aotearoa New Zealand are personally affected by gambling harm. 

“While the block only applies to online transactions, our data shows that the majority of gambling spending does take place online. We’ve updated our website to let customers know that the block’s available if they’re looking for support with a gambling problem,” Ms Brock says. 

Westpac customers can call the bank or visit a branch to request a gambling block – the block will then be applied to all their credit/debit cards.  

When the block is in place, it means a customer can’t use their card for online transactions with gambling businesses (the transaction will be declined). The block doesn’t stop transactions at physical gambling locations, such as casinos or buying a lottery ticket at a retail outfit. Once the block has been set up, it will stay in place for a minimum of three months before a customer can request to remove it. 

Ms Brock says Westpac has already had feedback from customers that the block can make a difference.  

“In one example, a customer received an inheritance payment of more than $100,000, then over the next 12 days spent more than $15,000 gambling online,” Ms Brock says.  

“When the customer was told that we could put a block on their account to help them manage their spending, they jumped at the opportunity. The customer told our team that they were desperate to quit gambling, but found it difficult to control on their own. 

“Admitting you have a problem is a really brave thing to do. Letting customers know that the gambling block is available hopefully makes it easier for them to have those conversations with our teams, as well as empowering our people to best support our customers. 

“As well as introducing the gambling block, we’ve trained our customer-facing teams to have constructive conversations with customers who may be struggling with gambling. Our people can also work with these customers to structure their accounts to limit gambling spend.”  

The introduction of the gambling block is the latest initiative in Westpac’s Extra Care programme of work. Earlier this year, Westpac NZ launched the use of an interpreting service to support customers who don’t speak English, and updated its bankruptcy policy to improve access to basic banking services for Kiwis going through tough times. 

The bank has also worked with the Department of Corrections to make it possible for prisoners nearing their release date to open bank accounts, as well as partnered with Oranga Tamariki and advocacy organisation VOYCE - Whakarongo Mai to help young people in state care to get a bank account and access financial education. 

“We’re working hard to help improve outcomes for our customers and communities,” Ms Brock says.