TERRY SWEETMAN
TERRY SWEETMAN

Banks must stop treating old people like idiots

BANKS occupy a strange place in the memory.

My childhood image of them is of imposing but strangely comforting places adorned with dark wood and brass.

My young adult recall of them is places I attended as a supplicant and where I was treated with all the suspicion due to a potential loan defaulter and a wastrel.

In my dotage I expect them to treat me with the respect due to a sainted self-funded retiree.

Maybe not.

A reader, who chooses to call himself Clyde (and his wife Bonnie), relates an extraordinary story that should be filed somewhere between abuse and contempt.

It seems they learned a painful lesson when a brother died and his widow suffered the embarrassment of being refused credit because the bank had cancelled her shared card.

The brother had been dead just days but a notice had appeared in the local paper and had been spotted by an eagle-eyed credit checking firm. Who knew?

When the widow trotted off to the bank the staff did not know who she was or why she was there.

It seems she represented neither risk nor reward for the bank.

Clyde tells me that at the age of 75 he and his wife have salted away more than $5 million in "quality assets", from which they draw down a combined annual income in six figures.

Melbourne nurse Jacqueline McDowall gave evidence to the banking royal commission that a Westpac-employed financial adviser cost her family its life savings. (Pic: Julian Smith/AAP)
Melbourne nurse Jacqueline McDowall gave evidence to the banking royal commission that a Westpac-employed financial adviser cost her family its life savings. (Pic: Julian Smith/AAP)

About now you might say "cry me a river" but bear with Clyde.

With the lesson of the recent bereavement and what Clyde says is the reasonable expectation that he might drop off the twig first, Bonnie decided to shore up her financial affairs.

She had a card shared with Clyde and a second very low limited principal card which limited her short-term credit prospects.

So, she went off to the bank (where she had been a client since she was five years old) to increase her primary card limit to a modest $15,000 which is pretty much peanuts in the credit world.

(An outfit called creditcard.com.au reckons many low interest rate cards require a minimum income of that amount.)

Bonnie was pretty confident because $2 million of the family wealth was in her name and she would inherit the lot when Clyde popped his clogs.

The bank was obvious impressed because it agreed to raise her credit limit from a staggering $2000 to an astronomical $3000.

Whatever the banks might have learned from their public relations battering at the royal commission, you'd have to say that respect for women and for the elderly is not high on the list.

For Clyde, the lesson was the need for a return to personal service, sensible decision making and knowledge of customers.

Faint hope as banks increasingly cull their staff, trim their branch numbers and centralise their decision making.

"I think older people are becoming isolated from ease of money transfers by the onrush of technology, withdrawal of tradition services and the lack of care financial institutions have for anything apart from profits and bonus payments to the already overpaid,'' says Clyde.

"Old people are not a huge risk; they just have a more limited future,'' he concludes.

There might be another side to this modern-day Bonnie and Clyde story but their experience is symptomatic of a wider problem of generational and gender disrespect.

At a time when life expectancy is increasing and the pension age is rising, it is fatuous to pretend that mental capacity suddenly goes into instant decline after some statutory age.

There is legislation prohibiting age discrimination but in Bonnie's case you'd really have to wonder what passed for reasonable grounds for such miserable credit restrictions.

Farmer Mel Ruddy defaulted on a loan on his Queensland cattle farm after an incorrect valuation was given to it by a Bankwest banker who was given a Hayman Island trip as a reward for exceeding his targets. (Pic: Glenn Hunt/AAP)
Farmer Mel Ruddy defaulted on a loan on his Queensland cattle farm after an incorrect valuation was given to it by a Bankwest banker who was given a Hayman Island trip as a reward for exceeding his targets. (Pic: Glenn Hunt/AAP)

And it is downright insulting to presume that the woman in a relationship is necessarily a lesser financial citizen.

Too many of us (me included) apathetically accept this concept of the primary and secondary credit card or account holders, of bills sent to the presumed master of the house, and demands for masculine approval before services are provided.

We may well be called to account for our idleness when death intervenes.

Collectively, our attitudes need to change dramatically to keep pace with our expectations of the elderly.

We can't reasonably ask people to toil until they are 70 but at the same time pat them on the head, patronise them and roll our eyes at their antics and utterings.

Or treat them like financial imbeciles.

We have to treat them on their merits as individuals, a noble sentiment that is honoured more in the breach than the observance.

We sometimes give children adult status before they have earned it but we shouldn't lightly deny it to the elderly.

One of the psychological signs of elder abuse is defined as treating an older person like a child.

To that we might add treating an older person like a financial infant.

Terry Sweetman is a Courier-Mail columnist

@Terrytoo69