A Pandemic Within the Pandemic: Domestic Violence

Even before COVID-19, domestic and intimate partner violence was staggeringly prevalent around the world: 37 percent of women in South Asia, 68 percent of women in the Pacific, and between 20 and 50 percent of women in Latin American countries had experienced violence at the hands of their partners at least once in their lives. And the pressures households are facing during the pandemic have only amplified the problem. Worldwide, reported instances of domestic violence have risen 20 percent on average since the beginning of March. This has led to national campaigns, for example in Spain and France, where women can go to their pharmacy and request a “Mask 19” – a code word that will alert the pharmacist to contact the authorities.

Domestic violence can take many forms, including physical, sexual, emotional, and economic, and it happens across every socioeconomic class, race and creed. It can range from subtle manipulation to extreme physical abuse leading to death. Overwhelmingly, the victims of domestic violence are women and children, but men are also victims.  

Beyond the personal harm and loss it causes, domestic violence costs the economy between 1.6 percent and 3.7 percent of the global GDP. This includes reduced employee productivity and increased levels of absenteeism impacting a company’s bottom line.

The response to this pandemic within the pandemic was the topic of our May 14 “Business Responses to COVID-19” webinar series. We explored what Alliance members and stakeholders are doing to support their employees and customers who are affected by domestic violence.

Support for Employees

Alliance members are first focusing on providing safe work environments for their employees and putting in place domestic violence policies and procedures that include guaranteeing confidentiality and anonymity.

Westpac has a dedicated “employee assist team” that offers individuals case management support, unlimited paid leave, emergency accommodation and financial advice. In some cases, the bank also offers employees financial support, including a grant of up to A$5,000.

Westpac also has an employee action group dedicated to domestic violence that looks at ways to support employees and customers and how to extend its impact by working with community partners.

Banco BHD Leon has conducted regular employee satisfaction surveys throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to understand how employees are coping with remote work and lockdown in general and provide more support as needed. Mirroring what was done in Spain and France, the bank is also piloting a “code green” initiative with employees so they can get to the right channels for support and plans to extend it to customers after the pilot.

For several years, IDB has placed credit card–sized educational leaflets in every bathroom that detail the forms domestic violence can take and offer resources such as hotline numbers to call.

Support for Customers

Alliance members are also providing thoughtful support to victims of domestic violence through their customer value propositions.

In line with its strategy to deliver for customers’ “life moments,” Westpac offers a package to support victims of domestic violence. The package includes financial hardship assistance, flexibilization of any outstanding loans the customer has with the bank and a bespoke financial education module on its website.

Westpac has also taken measures to ensure victims can protect their accounts from perpetrators. The bank has just launched a “discrete” account offering with another brand at the bank and has recently added a “quick exit” button to its online banking screen so customers can exit the screen safely.

And because knowing where to draw the line as a financial services institution is very important, the bank partners with a referral agency that provides customers with extra support.

Banco BHD Leon’s customer-facing strategy has focused on communications campaigns to raise awareness of the issue and help people recognize the early signs of domestic violence and its different forms. These campaigns also point to support services and hotlines.

In addition, Banco BHD Leon recognized the need for a change in cultural attitudes to help reduce levels of domestic violence. That lead to a campaign supporting the notion of men contributing to household work to help break down stereotypes and promote gender equity.

RBS has a dedicated staff member who works with customers affected by economic abuse and takes them all the way along a journey to the authorities, if needed. The bank has also trained all front-line staff to identify and provide information to possible victims. RBS also works with a civil society partner called Save Lives and refers clients when needed. 

UK Finance (Banking Association) has implemented a Code of Practice that includes staff training on how to identify and serve customers who may be victims. The training also recommends specific changes to procedures, such as the ability to close joint accounts without partner permission and the provision of financial support including having access to a hardship fund.

In addition, Fundacion Capital provides integrated content on domestic violence prevention and practical advice on its Digital Advisor ConHector service on WhatsApp. The service also automatically connects to an emergency helpline if customers type the word “help” into the WhatsApp chat.

It’s clear from the cases presented during the webinar that there are many tactical ways financial services providers can support victims of domestic violence. There are strategic interventions such as leveraging external communications to raise awareness and change attitudes around this issue. It’s not an easy task, but it’s a vital one.

Upcoming sessions include:

  1. “Business in Times of Crisis” with Mastercard, May 28
  2. “Business in Times of Crisis” with AXA, June 11

Click here to register and see full details of upcoming sessions and video recordings of past sessions.