It was a deeply personal experience that helped encourage Ross Miller to introduce a landmark change at an Australian financial institution, making St George the country’s first ‘dementia-friendly’ bank.
Miller, the general manager of St George’s retail business, revealed that it was his father’s loss of confidence in his own banking abilities, as well as the realisation that as many as 123,000 of the bank’s customers may have some form of dementia, that prompted him to make the big changes announced today.
St George has trained its branch staff, and will have finished training its call-centre staff by Christmas, to recognise and assists customers who have dementia. The bank is also working with Alzheimer’s Australia to ensure branch layout, lighting, and signage is dementia-friendly.
Meanwhile, technology upgrades mean that people with dementia, their families, or their carers, can ask to have their files marked as such so their transactions are given particularly close attention. Customers can sign up to an alert system too, that lets family members or carers know when withdrawals and other transactions are made.
Miller says that with more than 900,000 customers over the age of 50, and given the national statistic that 13 per cent of this age group have some form of dementia, he couldn’t ignore the staggering number of St George customers that may be impacted by the condition.
“Our pilot program earlier in the year revealed how stress and anxiety can be diminished for dementia sufferers simply by making everyday banking as easy as possible,” he says, adding that the changes would help customers remain independent for longer, as well as less vulnerable to financial abuse.
It’s also an issue close to his heart, Miller says, having become concerned about how his father interacted with his own bank. Miller says banking rules meant it was difficult for him to intercede for his father, who’d lost confidence after a long spell in hospital.
“For me, it was about peace of mind,” the bank boss says, noting that his “very independent” parent lived in a remote location and wasn’t banking with St George at the time. “Children will want to be in a position where they know their parents, if they’re vulnerable, are being treated with great care by their bank.”
It’s taken St George since February to introduce the changes necessary to become dementia friendly. Bank of South Australia and Bank of Melbourne, which, like St George, are part of the Westpac group, will introduce dementia-friendly banking in early 2018, and Westpac itself will do so later next year.
Alzheimer’s Australia chief executive Maree McCabe says financial services are one of the areas where greater awareness of dementia is needed.
“While there’s no cure on the horizon, there are a number of strategies that can be put in place to minimise the impact for the person with dementia, their carers, family and the community,” she says.
More than 413,000 Aussies currently have dementia, and by 2056 that number will have increased to 1.1 million, according to Alzheimer’s Australia statistics.