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Col 5: Ageism lurks in the financial services industry

Ageism discrimination in South Africa is basically ignored by many institutions and particularly so by the financial services industry and even health care providers.

Bruce Cameron 16Aug2023 Ageism lurks in the financial services industry

By Bruce Cameron
Co-author of The Ultimate Guide to Retirement in South Africa

Most institutions go to great lengths in dealing with racism and sexism, but ageism seems to fall off the table. For example, an ageism case reported to the Banking Ombudsman about someone over 65 wanting to borrow from a bank was just brushed aside. Hopefully the banking ombudsman will have a long-lived retirement, suffering from just a few of the problems of being of an older age!

There are issues that are particular to older people such as:

  • Loosing facilities. This can include the gradual or sudden loss of hearing, seeing or even quick thinking, leading to aphasia and dementia; and,

  • Treated differently. Tell someone you are retired and more often than not they signal boredom. Tell them you are a doctor or even a journalist and they are engaging. The trouble is that this also extends into how institutions treat older people, among other thing denying them proper access in many ways.

The problem with ageism is that it is covered by existing legislation but rarely enforced. The main legislation is: the Older Persons Act, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Consumer Act.

When it comes to financial service you should have an additional layer of protection, namely the six guidelines of Treating Customers Fairly (TCF). But again, there is a serious lack of enforcement by the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA) not only for elderly people but across the board.

For example, one of the problems is that FSCA allowed the industry to self-assess whether they met the six guidelines. Guess what they all did!

But there are many reasons why financial services industry does not adhere to TCF. Here are some of them:

Guideline 1: “Customers can be confident that they are dealing with firms where TCF is central to corporate culture.’

  • The problem: When most people become pensioners, banks, more or less, refuse to lend them money; and, if they do most of the banks charge them a much higher interest rate. Most pensioners have a fixed flow of pension income, and many have other sources of income from non-retirement savings through to still being employed. So even where pensioners have high income and are still saving, they are often dismissed by the banks. Yet the self-same banks lend to much lower-income younger borrowers at far higher risk.

The banking ombudsman unacceptably dismisses ageism complaints saying: ‘The banks have the right to set their own lending programme”.

Guideline 5: ‘Products perform as firms have led customers to expect and service is of an acceptable standard and as they have been led to expect.’

Guideline 6: “Customers do not face unreasonable post-sale barriers imposed by firms to change product, switch providers, submit a claim or make a complaint.’

  • A choice: There are numerous examples where the financial services industry, particular electronic banks, do not stick to one or both of these TFC guidelines. They do not give customers, including the elderly, a choice of contact. You should be asked whether you would prefer contact by mail, email, or telephone.

  • ‘No Reply’ emails: Often emails sent out by the financial services industry contain information which requires a customer response. The ‘no reply’ means the customer must now telephone the company; and, then go through the input of passwords, choices, and advertisements before even getting hold of someone to talk to and then you are again referred for more security questions. Then you may, but only may, get someone to help you. If you need to telephone back, you go through the whole process again and you do not get the same person.

  • Identification number: Increasingly you are asked by a financial service provider to provide your identification number to access emailed statements, tax information, other information and even advertising. But here comes the rub: 1. One of the major scams is unrequested contact. The financial services actually warn you against this as a scam then do exactly the same with their telephone calls. 2. They make out they are doing you a favour, but in effect that are protecting themselves from being sued if they send information to the wrong person. 3. Some only allow you to use PDFs to open the documents. They do not allow you to use Apple’s far better Preview programme. 4. The input of your identity number does not mean that when you store the information the required information will now be made available. You need to keep inserting your identity number anytime you open or want to forward the document to another institution.  People who require the information include support for visas and tax information for the taxman. Some allow the lifting of the identity requirement, but others do not.

All this is bad enough for most ordinary people but take account of those with speech, seeing or hearing difficulties, particularly those who suffer from various ailments, including panic attacks, when under pressure.

It is time the FSCA, the financial institutions and all the various ombuds did something about ageism.

There is a lot more detail on this in chapter 17 of The Ultimate Guide to Retirement in South Africa for more information on how to purchase the book go to Buy Now on our website


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