For many of us, having a bank account isn’t something we give much thought to on a daily basis. Naturally, we tend to pay more attention to our bank balance, than the actual account itself! Like many things in life, it’s often something we take for granted until we no longer have access to it.
But for those in a financially abusive relationship or other challenging family situations, a personal bank account can be so much more than just a bank account. It can be a symbol of freedom, and a lifeline for safety. Having access to a bank card can give you the resources to put a roof over your head and food on the table, for yourself and your children. It also makes it easier to gain legal aid if required and to seek employment.
If you’ve bravely exited a tricky family situation or are thinking about doing so, you may find yourself starting from scratch financially. Don’t worry if you find yourself wondering “how do I actually open a bank account?” After all, it’s something that many people haven’t had to do in many decades, and banking technology moves fast! For some people, this may even be the first time opening a bank account, if you’ve had parents or a partner do this for you previously.
In this article, we’re taking you through a step-by-step guide to setting up your own bank account — from what you’ll need for your application, to how to apply and finding financial assistance if required. Armed with this information, you’ll be able to safely and confidently enter this new chapter of your life.
Consider your current financial situation
While it may be painful to think about, it’s important to first take stock of your previous financial commitments with your partner or ex-partner. If you had a joint account with your partner, you may be able to contact the same financial institution to ask them to open a new account in your name.
This can save you a few steps, as your bank may already have your verification documents on file and you may not have to go through the entire application process again. They can also help you redirect any of your previous direct debits. All good financial institutions will keep this process completely confidential, so you won’t need to worry about privacy.
If you had a joint mortgage or other loan with your previous partner, it can make things more complicated. You may want to consider contacting your bank to cancel the redraw on your loan or changing the authority to ‘both parties to sign'. If you are going to have difficulties making your mortgage payments, consider speaking to your bank about financial difficulties, seeking government assistance, or nominate a trusted friend or family member to assist you with payments in the short-term.
What you’ll need to apply for a new bank account
If you’re applying for a brand, new transaction account, there are generally a few documents you’ll need on hand. To verify your ID, you’ll need a current driver's licence, Medicare Card, passport, NSW Photo Card or birth certificate. Some banks will also require proof of address.
However, if you have had to quickly flee an abuse situation and aren’t able to supply the identification needed, you still have options. In 2020, the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) announced a change to customer ID rules, designed to assist victims of financial and other forms of abuse. Now, if you aren’t able to produce your driver’s license or birth certificate or prove your address, banks can find alternate ways to verify your identity. This may include a letter from a referee or government correspondence.
You may also consider applying for a line of credit such as a credit card or overdraft account, or a No Interest Loan (provided through The Salvation Army) for small purchases may be another option. These options may help give you a financial buffer through challenging times. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the application process is generally more complicated when it comes to loans. As well as the above documents, you will need to provide evidence that you are able to make your repayments on time, such as bank statements and your salary information. Your credit score is also taken into consideration, so it can be worth checking your free credit report using a tool like Equifax before applying.
There are a few different ways you can apply for a new transaction banking account. Depending on your bank, you can usually apply online, call or visit a branch. Be sure to choose the option that feels safest and most manageable for your individual situation.
If you choose to apply online with a bank like Westpac, you will generally see a category on their website titled ‘personal.’ Here, you will be able to select a transaction account that suits your needs, then select ‘apply now’ or ‘open account.’ From here, you will be taken to a secure application form.
With Westpac, the online application process takes less than three minutes to complete and requires answering just a few simple questions. Be sure to read the privacy statement when putting in your application, then press ‘submit’. Generally, your account will immediately be set up to accept deposits (so you can begin building up your safety net straight away), and you will be contacted to complete the application process (so you can make withdrawals), either by phone or mail.
If you require additional security or your financial situation is more complicated (for example, if you require an alternative ID verification method), you may want to consider applying in-person at a branch to ensure your application goes quickly and smoothly.
Safeguarding your new account
For many survivors, setting up a bank account balance in their name is an important first step when considering leaving a financially abusive situation. It’s a separate account where you can have your salary or government payments deposited so that you have a financial safety net for when you do leave.
However, if you are still in the middle of an abuse situation, there are a few other considerations to keep in mind in order to keep yourself and your money safe.
Banks are required to send statements and letters about your account. So, make sure to let your financial institution know that you would like to receive your statements online, rather than via mail. Of course, you can let the bank know if you have communication security concerns and work put the best way forward with them for being contacted.
Alternatively, you can confide in a trusted friend or family member, and nominate their address as your mailing address instead.
Keep any important information like your bank PIN number and account details secure, and consider giving any documentation to a trusted friend or family members to keep safe
Keep in mind any online accounts (such as your email address or phone numbers) linked to your bank accounts, and any third parties who have access to this
Consider setting up SMS security alerts on your account for larger transactions
Regularly check your bank statements for unauthorised payments
If you’ve changed addresses or are staying short-term at an address, notify your bank of your new account
Seek advice and assistance if required
Financial abuse is a complex issue, and your situation isn’t always as simple as just setting up a new bank account. The good news is, you don’t have to go it alone.
Whether it’s unravelling yourself from the debt of a past relationship or gaining financial assistance until you’re back on your feet, there are people who can help. Organisations like the National Debt Helpline, Good Shephard and The Salvation Army provide free financial counselling services to help you get on the path to financial recovery.
To speak with a specialist team at Westpac who can help you manage your finances during difficult circumstances, you can also call Priority Assist on 1800 063 509.
While setting up your own bank account might seem like a small action, it’s a big step forward towards a better financial future, and one you should be proud of yourself for taking.
For more information on regaining your financial independence, check out this handy eBook.