Kim Hungerford: UK Banks could learn a thing or two from the Aussies

Posted on April 24, 2014

I am from Australia and my partner Des from the UK tells me of the problems that deaf people have with banks, especially when fraud protection measures stop them from using their cards.

Normally banks alert customers by a telephone call if they suspect fraud but a deaf customer can’t answer that call. So, then they might try a letter but delivery of those depends on the Royal Mail a few days later.

Really, Deaf people would be left in the dark about why their card had been stopped but hearing customers wouldn’t have this long delay. For them, the problem is sorted very quickly. So I wanted to share with you my good experience from Australia.

One Sunday during January, I used my debit card to purchase food from grocery store and my card was declined three times. Unusual and impossible on this occasion.

WP1An important text message vibrated my mobile so I was able to attend to this text message. The initial heading on my mobile screen was ‘Westpac: For security…19/0’

‘Oh no’ I thought!

I opened Westpac’s message:
‘For security your card ending (numbers) has been temporarily blocked. Please contact Westpac using the number on the back of your card to confirm recent activity.’

The following day, at my local Westpac branch, I showed Westpac’s text message on my mobile and card to my local personal banker, Tiffany. When Tiffany looked at my bank account, she discovered four withdrawals with big amounts that were made abroad. The bank immediately destroyed my existing card and a full investigation was undertaken. The new replacement card arrived a week later.

Some days after, Westpac sent me an email giving a conclusion of the Bank’s investigations that these transactions were fraudulent and a refund in respect of these transactions was placed in my account.

During close monitoring of my account in the coming weeks, my new replacement card was temporarily blocked again so I enquired by e-mail with Westpac’s Tiffany who assisted in verifying whether transactions using my replacement card were actually done by me. I replied immediately confirming that transactions went through with my authorisation and were not fraudulent. The temporarily block was removed.

The text messages and communication via emails were more efficient for both of us as I am deaf and could not call the bank.
I am very grateful to Westpac for alerting me in an accessible format, drawing my immediate attention which enabled me to take the appropriate action like for instance, my visit to the Westpac branch the following day.

Furthermore, we used e-mails for all communication purposes of monitoring my bank account while the Bank was conducting a full investigation and for some time after the full refund was placed in my account.

Full account details hadn’t been disclosed during communications via texts and e-mails between the Bank and I because I am known at the bank branch – this way no security could be breached.

Should I have been outside my home country of Australia then I could have been able to attend to my text message by communicating via e-mails with my personal banker at Westpac for further instructions.

In addition, Westpac’s communication in an accessible format with me assisted another case to a resolution without unnecessary delays. During my trip to the UK in December 2012, my ATM card was retained by the High Street bank’s ATM machine for a mysterious reason. Westpac, on communication via e-mails with me, organised a replacement card for me to collect at the Bank’s London branch so I was able to have access to my cash for the rest of my Europe travels. Otherwise, I could have been unable to contact the Bank since I can’t phone them.

A similar practice could be applied in local branches that have Deaf customers in the UK by making some adjustments in regards to the use of communication where urgent attention would be required from the customers for security reasons in relation to their accounts.
The e-mails between Westpac and me started with ‘Dear (named person)” and ends with “(named person)” proving that both have known each other well for the banking purposes.

It is understandable that the banks are very reluctant to contact customers by email as it is an insecure channel. The prevailing factor would be due to ‘phishing’ e-mails, purporting to be from these banks that trick customers into giving away personal information to be then used for fraud.

However the banks should be less pessimic and be more reflective towards Deaf people’s communication needs so the Banks could give some considerations on whether use of e-mails for communication between parties that are known to each other would be allowable, as long as e-mails address to the named person, do not contain any account details or links.

So to UK banks: Be more relaxed and put customers, including Deaf people and their needs, first equally alongside these security measures. If it works for Westpac, why can’t it work for UK banks?

Kim Hungerford works as an assistant to the curator at Beleura – the House and Garden museum and also works within the creative arts therapy field in Australia. She has a background in fine arts, psychology and creative arts therapy and also established and taught an interpreter training program and an art therapy program at Rochester School for the Deaf and National Technical Institute for the Deaf in New York.  She is now pursuing her passion to study colourology to support her future creative arts therapy workshop programs.
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