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Financial abuse – the perspective for paraplanners

12 December 2020

While physical, emotional and sexual abuse tend to garner the headlines, financial abuse can be as damaging. It is one form of abuse that paraplanners are well positioned to identify, says Michelle Hoskin, managing director of Standards International. Michelle was the second professional adviser to qualify as a Financial Abuse Specialist™.

 It’s taken centuries but finally some brave souls have decided to confront their abusers and call out domestic violence, and in a very public way. The #MeToo movement has its raving fans and detractors but, whatever your stance, domestic violence is finally being spoken about, loudly and publicly.

During 2017, a staggering 139 women in the UK died as a result of male violence.* The violence is sadly an everyday reality for many globally and – as the lockdown billboards quite brutally reminded us – abusers always work from home!

For many, physical abuse is only part of their suffering. There’s related emotional and sexual abuse, intimidation and of course let’s not forget financial abuse.

Abusers often use financial manipulation to gain power and control. This can include anything from concealing the family’s financial situation and limiting someone’s access to assets, to reducing someone’s access to finance and even determining whether or not someone is able to work, and in what position.

Research in the US by the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) indicates that financial abuse occurs in a staggering 99% of domestic violence cases. And don’t think it’s limited to a certain ‘type’: it can occur irrespective of socio-economic category, education, race or ethnicity.

To all those who are fortunate enough to know nothing about domestic violence, those who can sit back and scratch their heads and ask, ‘why do they stay?’: it’s usually because of money.

A survivor’s main concern is their ability to provide financially for themselves and their children. This is cited as the top reason for both staying in and returning to abusive relationships.

So, what does financial abuse look like?

  • Hiding assets.
  • Forcing the victim to work in a family business with little or no pay.
  • Refusing to pay bills and ruining credit scores but running up bills in a partner’s name.
  • Forcing the victim to turn over social security funds, or threatening to turn the victim in to the authorities for ‘cheating the system’.
  • Control over how all family finances are spent.
  • Not including the victim in investment or financial decisions.
  • Not allowing access to bank accounts.
  • Forbidding the victim from attending job training or advancing in their career.
  • Sabotaging work or employment opportunities through stalking, harassment or physical abuse.
  • Withholding funds or providing a limited ‘allowance’.
  • ‘Period poverty’, through which women are made to stay at home during menstruation because they have no access to sanitary products.
  • Refusing to pay or evading child support.

So, why should advisers and their teams care? Or probably the question is rather, what has it got to do with us? In most countries, there is a legislative requirement to know your client: the simple reason is that it’s hard to give comprehensive and appropriate advice if you don’t.

Having a client’s best interests at heart moves you to want to assist those in a difficult financial predicament in the best way you know how.

As paraplanners, I know that many of you take on a different role to planners and advisers in the advice process and as such may have built quite a different relationship with your clients. This could position you perfectly to spot some of the signs that they may miss.

The stories are often horrific! In Australia, one survivor – who was duped by her husband for AU$1.2 million prior to his attempted murder of her – wished that her adviser had raised the idea of asset protection prior to her requiring it. When asked what advice she had for others in a similar situation, she suggested that they seek help immediately, talking to a trusted family friend or reaching out to a professional. Help is available.

So, what can you do?

Unfortunately, there is no cookie-cutter approach and each case is unique, but there is support and training available to you if you feel this is something you should be ready to handle should the situation present itself.

In the meantime, here are a few pointers:

Suspect it, share it!

If you see or even suspect something isn’t quite right, you must speak out and share what you feel. Your ‘gut instinct’ is often the best radar you have – so trust it. Speak to your planner or adviser or even another member of your team but, whatever you do, don’t keep quiet!

Build up some evidence to confirm your concerns; this may be an email or a recording of a conversation. Anything! It all helps!

See it, say it!

If you are feeling super confident and today is a day when you have your ‘big girl/boy pants on’ then you could always raise it with the potential victim. Of course, as you would expect, I advise erring on the side of caution here as, unless you really know what you are doing, you could be entering very sensitive and serious areas of a person’s life.

So, if you are sure and feel ready to open up the conversation, here’s what we suggest you say:

  • I’ve noticed [insert behaviour]. Can you please provide me with some context about that?
  • I have noticed [insert behaviour]; does this happen a lot?
  • I picked up on your comment [insert what was said] – would you like to talk more about that?

Or if you feel confident to approach the potential abuser, you could start with:

  • I felt uncomfortable when you asked me to/asked to [insert behaviour] and will not act on these instructions as I’m bound by a code of ethics. Do you understand my position/how do you feel about that?
  • When you said [insert what was said] it really upset/offended/concerned me. Why did you say/feel the need to say that?

And remember!

Before you raise your concerns with anyone…

  • Be mindful of your own personal frames of reference.
  • Stick to the facts that you could back up with evidence if required.
  • Focus on how you feel – nobody can ever argue with that!

FURTHER SUPPORT FOR VICTIMS

  • The Freedom Programme is a domestic violence programme providing essential information (not therapy) to those suffering at the hands of an abuser – https://www.freedomprogramme.co.uk
  • The Financial Toolbox is a comprehensive web-based resource containing information to assist women and children facing domestic and family violence and financial abuse transition to becoming independent, empowered and financially resilient – https://www.financialtoolbox.org.au/your-toolkit/

FURTHER SUPPORT FOR PROFESSIONAL ADVISERS

Michelle Hoskin was the second professional adviser to qualify as a Financial Abuse Specialist™

Professional Paraplanner