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Hidden epidemic: financial abuse in small and family businesses

Not-for-profit organisation EACH, has been selected as a CommBank Next Chapter Innovation Partner, in a bid to tackle financial abuse within Australian small businesses.

Financial abuse in small business is a serious form of family violence and is one of the most powerful ways an abuser can keep a partner or family member trapped in an abusive relationship. However, this form of family violence continues to fly under the radar.

Victims of financial abuse in small business are often turned away for support, with a severe lack of pathways for resolution. Consumer protections, tax, and corporate legislation do not recognise financial violence, and community legal centres rarely take on business issues.

Common lived experiences of financial abuse in small business includes:

  • Being made a director of a company without consent, with liability to ASIC and ATO.
  • Signed as personal guarantor to business loans.
  • Forced to take out credit cards or loans in their personal name for business use.
  • Personal Tax File Number used by others to withdraw funds from the business.
  • Assets illegally stripped or transferred from a business into another entity or to the perpetrator.
  • Having a business sabotaged, account emails and passwords changed so they are not able to access the tools needed to run their business.
  • Made to work in a family business for little to no renumeration.

The impacts are complex, costly, and isolating. The onus is on the victim survivors of financial abuse to prove their innocence at their own cost. Resolution can also take years – some cases have needed more than 40 organisations to resolve the abuse.

EACH is the only organisation in the country that offers specialist small business financial counselling, dealing with thousands of cases within this sector.

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To address this growing issue, EACH is developing a national, specialised program that will provide support for victims experiencing financial abuse in the context of small business. Working with banks, ASIC, ATO and legal centres, they will seek to resolve complex financial impacts of financial abuse – creating pathways to resolution that are currently not available. With $100,000 funding and mentorship from CommBank, EACH will develop a scoping report to initiate the process.

What’s CommBank’s Next Chapter Innovation?

CommBank announces its five Next Chapter Innovation partners helping to support the long-term recovery for victim-survivors of financial abuse and domestic and family violence.

Commonwealth Bank has hosted its Next Chapter Innovation think tank for its five Next Chapter Innovation Partners who are helping to make a difference in the lives of those affected by domestic and family violence by delivering innovative responses to financial abuse recovery.

Held at CommBank’s offices in South Eveleigh, the Next Chapter Innovation Think Tank included the five community organisations selected as Innovation Partners along with a range of executives and subject matter experts from the bank including retail, HR, business banking, strategy, marketing and community investment.

Each organisation selected to be an Innovation Partner will be mentored by a senior leader from the bank who will provide support and ongoing expertise over the next 12 months to help the organisations deliver impact through their programs of work. 

CBA Group Executive, Human Resources, Sian Lewis said: “CommBank’s Next Chapter Innovation program allows us to bring our experience in incubating and delivering innovation to provide practical support and accelerate action for these community organisations and the great work they are doing to address financial abuse, in the context of domestic and family violence.

“We are proud to share our resources with not-for-profit organisations which may not otherwise be available to them. By offering support, mentoring and by bringing together a think tank we can help bring to life projects that will make a big difference to the lives of so many” Ms Lewis said.

The five Next Chapter Innovation Partners are:

  • YFS LTD – provides a range of services to people in Logan and Scenic Rim. YFS Ltd will develop and trial practical ways to help raise awareness about technology-facilitated abuse through hosting ‘bring your device’ sessions and capacity building sessions for stakeholders, as well as security upgrades and technology sweeps for those impact by domestic violence and financial abuse.
  • Indian (Sub-Cont) Crisis and Support Agency (ICSA) – is dedicated to the needs of vulnerable South Asian communities. Informed by research, ICSA will focus on the issue of dowry abuse and develop a comprehensive set of guidelines and deliver sessions about this issue tailored to the community, legal, domestic violence sector and frontline workers.
  • EACH – a for-purpose organisation delivering health and support services that improve lives and strengthen communities. EACH will commission a report to inform the development of a national ‘domestic and family violence in small business’ resolution service.
  • Afghan Women on the Move – supports Afghan and other multicultural women in Australia, helping them build physically, mentally, spiritually, and financially healthy, independent lives. Afghan Women on the Move seeks to address the nuanced challenges of domestic violence and financial abuse within the multicultural community by providing language-targeted content and therapeutic art workshops.
  • Illawarra Women’s Health Centre – provides free or low-cost and affordable medical, allied and complementary health care as well as health and well-being programs, groups and education to improve women’s health. Through the Illawarra Women’s Recovery Centre, opening in 2024, it will co-design a Pathways to Financial Security Framework to define what financial security means from a lived experience perspective after experiencing domestic and financial abuse, and what steps are needed to establish and build long-term financial security.
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Lula Dembele, Director Lived Expertise & Advocacy, Illawarra Women’s Health Centre said “We are thrilled to be partnering with CBA through Next Chapter Innovation to help create a way forward for women to re-establish financial security following financial abuse. Too many women remain trapped in abusive relationships or face poverty after experiencing economic abuse and each have different challenges to rebuild their lives. Through our Pathways to Financial Security project we will work with women and partners to understand what support they need and how to access it.”

Next Chapter Innovation, announced in July 2023 offered eligible not-for-profit and social enterprise organisations:

  • access to grants of $50,000, $100,000 or $200,000
  • dedicated executive support and mentoring from CommBank
  • access to a think tank to leverage corporate expertise
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