CBA comments on proposed code of conduct for banks dealing with seniors

  • February 25, 2019

When we think about banking services aimed at seniors we might think first about lower banking fees or maybe a dedicated teller, where they might sit and take their time with someone who can clearly explain what’s going on with their accounts.

But seniors may need services from their banks that go much further than that. New provisions in the Bank Act require that products and services offered or sold are appropriate for the customer’s circumstances.The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada is responding by proposing a code of conduct to guide banks in their delivery of products and services to seniors in Canada.

The CBA’s Elder Law Section was asked to comment on the proposed code of conduct. It welcomes the initiative, and makes a number of recommendations regarding elements to include and issues to consider.

The first recommendation is that bank staff at all levels be given competency-based training on “mental capacity, ageism, powers of attorney, abuse of power of attorney, elder abuse, undue influence, common types of financial fraud, privacy and confidentiality obligations, cultural awareness, and the bank’s escalation policies and procedures,” for example, what to do when fraud or elder abuse are identified.

The Section makes a number of recommendations with regard to power of attorney, aiming “to offer reasonable protections in circumstances where substitute decision-making may be required for customers, which present particular risks for seniors.”

The letter also outlines some of the risks associated with joint accounts, and recommends that bank staff be trained to advise all customers, especially seniors, of the consequences of opening and using those accounts, as well as the options available, such as requiring both account holders to approve withdrawals.

The code of conduct should also include a commitment to improve accessibility of banking services for seniors, “including accommodations for mobility limitations, hearing impairments, visual impairments, seniors in remote areas (including remote indigenous communities), and seniors on low incomes.” For example, telephone banking, and easy access by phone to a live individual, would improve access for those who can’t easily get around, who live in remote areas, and who can’t use the internet, the Section says.

Accessibility in communication materials is also important – large print and clear language, even pictorial tools, will help get the message across.

“We support this initiative to create a voluntary code of conduct but urge the FCAC to consider whether developing regulations to ensure compliance would be more effective,” the Section concludes, noting that the FCAC can’t impose monetary penalties, or publish the name of offenders, when a voluntary code is breached.

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