Westpac Bank has reversed its hardline decision to strip an elderly widow of her credit card – which prevented her from accessing her cash – following her husband’s death.
And the bank says it is now reviewing internal processes to make sure other grieving customers are not treated the same way.
But it’s hitting back at claims of sexism.
The developments follows criticism of the bank’s handling of the case last week, which resulted in an apology from Westpac and financial compensation to the distressed 87-year-old.
Gabrielle O’Callaghan’s family have welcomed the decision to reissue the octogenarian’scard.
But they believe the bank only acted due to a storm of negative publicity after they shared their story with the Herald, and are calling for a wider shake-up of the banking sector.
“It’s only when they’re made to look really bad that there’s an about face,” daughter Martine O’Callaghan said.
“It’s affecting so many women.”
After losing her husband in October, Gabrielle – a loyal Westpac customer of 56 years without a blemish on her banking record – tried to get the couple’s accounts changed into her sole name this month.
But the family say Hamilton bank staff told Gabrielle her Platinum Mastercard, which she also used for Eftpos transactions, was cancelled as she no longer had a steady income.
Martine said the “cherry on the cake” was her mother being told her 120,000 “Hotpoints” rewards – worth $650 – could no longer be redeemed “because Dad is dead”.
“If it was Mum who had died, Dad wouldn’t have had a problem. It’s because she’s a woman.
“It’s just not fair.”
The family plan to lodge a complaint with the Banking Ombudsman.
The bank eventually apologised to the family, transferred the Hotpoints to Gabrielle and provided financial compensation.
It said Gabrielle was only an “additional”, rather than “joint” holder of her late husband’s credit card, which prevented her from using it after his death.
Though the bank agreed to courier a debit card to Gabrielle, it told the Herald last week she would have to reapply for her credit card “in line with our usual lending policies and criteria”.
But a day after the Herald’s story, the bank had a change of heart, informing the family that a new credit card was being issued.
Gabrielle’s case does not appear to be an isolated one. The Herald has been inundated with emails from widowed women who lost access to their credit cards at various banks after their husbands died, with many told it was because they now had “insufficient funds”.
The Banking Ombudsman has confirmed receiving more than 70 complaints this year relating to dead customers’ accounts, and warned that banks need to address this “emerging trend”.
Martine said the problem was obviously affecting many women and she called on Westpac and other banks to review their processes.
“I’d like to think that it hasn’t all been for nothing. They’ve given mum this but they need to back it up with a revaluation of their processes.
“All these women really don’t have a leg to stand on.
“It’s just not fair.”
In a statement, a Westpac spokesman confirmed the bank was now reviewing its processes when a customer died “to ensure other family members aren’t left in the same position” as Gabrielle.
“After careful consideration” it had offered her a new credit card with a lower limit.
“This decision was based on the customer’s overall financial position and our desire to resolve the situation as quickly and efficiently as possible in the best interests of Mrs O’Callaghan.
“We have apologised to Mrs O’Callaghan and her family for the stress our mistakes have caused.”
But the bank rejected any suggestion that its policies were sexist.
Restrictions preventing an additional card holder from using a credit card in the name of their dead spouse applied “regardless of the age or gender of the additional card holders – men and women are not treated differently”.
The bank encouraged customers to discuss how their credit card was structured if they were unsure.
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