26 Nov 2023

Westpac NZ has updated its banking terms and conditions to help protect customers from abusive language in payments.   

Today is International Economic Abuse Awareness Day, and Westpac NZ Manager of Customer Vulnerability and Financial Inclusion Louisa Brock says the update makes it clear to customers that derogatory or abusive language won’t be tolerated.

“Unfortunately, we do see people using the ‘reference’ field of payments to send unpleasant messages to payees,” Ms Brock says.

“We often find this kind of offensive language on very small payments of one cent or one dollar. The perpetrator may already be blocked from contacting their victim through social media or other channels, so they’re using payments to harass them.” 

Ms Brock says offensive messages are also sometimes attached to child support payments.

Westpac identifies thousands of instances of offensive language each month, based on a wide range of trigger words, but many of these turn out to be joke messages between friends or family. Other messages, however, are clearly intended to be abusive.

So far this year, Westpac has found 115 instances of offensive language that required action.

The bank’s process is to contact the customer to ask them to stop sending inappropriate messages. If the behaviour continues, Westpac will take steps to close the customer’s account and cease providing them with banking services.   

“We’re pleased that we haven’t yet had to exit any customers, which indicates that the warning system is working,” Ms Brock says. 

“While we’ve been taking action on these kinds of messages for some time, the update to our terms and conditions formalises our position. It’s now absolutely clear that this isn’t acceptable, and that we’ll exit customers if this behaviour continues.”

Westpac is a partner of Shine, the domestic violence support agency, and Ms Brock says the bank works closely with Shine on its approach.

“We’re always reviewing our policies and procedures to ensure we’re doing everything we can to prevent any kind of abuse,” Ms Brock says.

“We provide our customer-facing teams with specific education and resources to help them to identify instances of abuse, so that they’re aware of how best to support customers or escalate issues where required.”

If a member of the public has received an abusive message in a payment and wants to report it, they can get in touch with Westpac directly.

About International Economic Abuse Day

This Sunday 26 November is International Economic Abuse Awareness Day. Organisations throughout the world are working together to share information and resources in order to address economic abuse. In Aotearoa, Good Shepherd is a charitable organisation that tackles issues impacting women, girls and whānau. One of its focuses is financial wellbeing, including preventing economic harm.