What Are the Signs of Financial Abuse?

Today’s episode is such an important subject and one that’s really close to my heart. This conversation today is all about the signs of financial abuse. The reason that this plays a really important part in my life is not because I’ve been in a financially abusive relationship. Far from it.

But for a lot of the ladies that I work with and a lot of the financial planners that I work with in my training program, there are often very obvious red flags and signs that financial abuse is happening or has happened.

When I think about financial trauma, there’s big traumas and little traumas that happen in people’s lives. There’s things like divorce, separation, the loss of a loved one, COVID 19, all of these things that can create anxiety and that can rock our wellbeing.

Financial abuse is one of those really important subjects that I just really wanted to understand more about so that I could play a key part in understanding how can I help people who are in a financially abusive relationship or how I can help people to support them when they have been through a previous abusive relationship.

This is very interconnected with domestic abuse. This is part of the passion project that, as a business, we want to support this year. We’re going out to Necker Island in September and I want to be in a position where I’m hot seating with Richard Branson talking about how we can change some of the poverty, anxiety and financial abuse that is going on in the world.

Last year I was Googling financial abuse and I came across this certification program with a a Certified Financial Abuse Specialist. I’d never heard of it before. Then I saw that the person behind this brand was Michelle Hoskin, aka Little Miss Woww, who I am going to introduce you to.

Michelle Hoskin has been in my world for a number of years. She works very closely with financial planners, supporting their growth and their businesses and she is the founder of Standards International.

Michelle and I met a few years ago at a conference. I sat there as a paraplanner at the time, so I was helping to support financial advisors with their report writing, and I was in this real lost space of not really knowing what to do. I had just started my business and started blogging about money and I was in this real uncertain time in my life.

I remember vividly sitting in the audience, listening to Michelle on stage, and I just sat there the whole time nodding going, “Oh my God. Yes!” I found myself going straight over to her afterwards and just wanting to connect with her because she was so passionate about what she was talking about.

The Signs of Financial Abuse

I’m so delighted to have you on the podcast today. Michelle Hoskin – Little Miss Woww.

It’s quite nice to be inside the In Her Financial Shoes world as opposed to watching it from the social media channels. I’m delighted, super happy to be here.

Thank you. Apologies for the long intro there, but I wanted to put some context behind why I’m talking about financial abuse and why did I take your certification program?

Really for me today, I just wanted to bring some awareness to this important subject.

I wanted to start off by understanding and talking about what financial abuse is, Michelle? What does that actually mean?

Okay. The reality is we could talk for hours and hours and hours and hours about it. But in simple terms, we all know that money is a hugely powerful thing. It’s an enabler. It enables people to live wonderful lives, do amazing things when we’re allowed out of our homes, et cetera. When it’s being used in a negative context, it’s a huge disabler and effectively financial abuse sits in the realm of coercive control. It is ultimately using money and using finances, the lack of or the access to, as a means of control.

The abuse part of it is obviously when it’s used in a negative context. The Financial Abuse Specialist course has been created to alert people to the signs and to help them understand financial abuse. When we were creating this program, many times throughout the process sat, and it was almost like light bulbs were popping off in my head, oh, that happened to my grandma. Oh my God, my friend, Samantha. That’s happening to her. I was an emotional wreck creating it, doing it as a certification process myself because it’s so real. It’s so real. It’s scarily so real.

Are there any statistics around this? Are there certain types of people that are susceptible to financial abuse?

There’s bags of stats. One of the main drivers for me and the statistic that triggered my interest initially was that it’s something ridiculous like over 90% of domestic violence cases, there is evidence of financial abuse in it.

My logic was if we’re all more aware of financial abuse and how to spot it, particularly in our sector of financial services, it’s likely that you’re also going to uncover domestic abuse. It was almost like to come to the rescue in its truest sense.

The stats are off the scale. In certain countries and in certain religions and cultures, money is used as a much more powerful tool than it is in the UK, for example, where wealth is also attached to someone’s credibility and someone’s self-worth. There’s no race, no colour, no gender. It’s happening all over the place. The difference with it, Catherine, is it can be so tiny, but it’s still financial abuse.

We’ll dig into this in today’s episode in terms of what constitutes an unhealthy relationship versus a healthy relationship. I think there is a fine line to some degree, but then there’s not. There’s some really blindingly obvious signs of financial abuse.

I remember when I did the training program, there was a video in there that talked about the purple purse, a US foundation that had created this awareness video. I’ve put a link to this in the resources below because it was so powerful. It was a three or four minute video.

It was a lady who gets in a cab and I think there were two people in the cab. They see a handbag that somebody had left in the taxi. Then the phone keeps beeping with text messages coming through. The person in the cab picked up this phone and started looking at these messages that were coming through from somebody, it was a man in this particular situation. It’s not always the case, but it was a man abusing this woman saying you’re not good enough to do this and really attacking her self worth. The phone then rang and so they were trying to find the person this handbag belonged to. They went to meet this woman in a coffee shop to give her her handbag back.

They were filming the reactions of the person who was obviously reading all this stuff and thinking, well this isn’t right, but what were they going to say.

It was so powerful because if I was actually in that situation, if I had a friend, or if I had a client, what would I say to that person? How would I know that financial abuse was going on.

Let’s talk a little bit about what some of the really obvious red flags are that we can be aware of either within the financial planning community with clients or with just friends and family members.

So first and foremost, I want us to just reflect on ourselves for seconds. We’re all in relationships. We’ve got relationships with parents, with family members, with friends, with children. The thing I want to alert everyone to is I want everyone to have a think about the language they use around money.

Little examples, if you’ve got grown up children who you give pocket money to and you say, if you don’t do your chores you’re not going to get any pocket money this week. What message, what language is being used there? What tone? When we are all in relationships and we’re talking about money, I think it’s really important to listen to the tone of the language and the words used in relation to money.

I had a girlfriend come round for a coffee in between lockdowns. She said her husband had asked her why she shopped at Sainsbury’s and not Aldi. I was like, okay, tell me a bit more about that. Looking at the receipts and he was saying, well, it’s so-and-so this, and that’s cheaper there. I was talking things through with her, but the distress, from a very happy relationship…

What we basically stemmed it back to was he had the power over the money. He owned it. She did not, he was superior in the financial relationship. She was not. He wasn’t doing it on purpose. He was genuinely asking, why do you always buy the expensive stuff and not the cheap stuff. But even still, it was a conversation. Our language, how we use language, how people use language to us.

I was in a relationship not so long ago where the guy didn’t earn much money. He didn’t have huge amounts of money but was spending my money like it was water. I’ve just ordered us this. I’ve decided we’re going to do that. I’ve just ordered a new dishwasher. He ain’t got any money to buy it.

You’ve also got to look inwards and go, did that feel right? Was I consulted? Was it joint conversation? Was that a mutual discussion or were the topics around money being dictated, being withheld or being used to labour a certain point. You don’t earn any money. You spend money like water kind of conversations.

The obvious signs are how we use words and how we are all involved in conversations. The one that’s probably not so obvious, and I want every person listening to keep a very close ear out when they’re listening to their girlfriends and guy friends talking.

I have a friend who will never, ever, ever buy clothes, shoes, bags, anything she needs full price, never. She never will. I’ve had this problem with her for ages and ages and ages because she deserves full-price jeans and a full-price coat. She’ll go to the dodgy end of line sale rail. What she is realising is that she’s financially abusing herself, depriving herself of what she deserves. They live in a 2 million pound house. Her husband has got several cars but she will not buy full price clothes. Her children look like they’ve just walked down a catwalk. She will not. She is effectively self-sabotaging. That is also a form of financial abuse.

When I learned about that in the training program, I remember it was specifically headed and kept separate.

This is something that we talk about all the time in our content and in our programs. It’s so important because you’re absolutely right. That self-sabotaging piece often just comes from our relationship with money that we’ve grown up around. But if it continues into adulthood, it keeps us stuck in this scarcity mindset. Not enoughness.

When we don’t feel good enough, we don’t feel like we have enough. We’re always on this constant treadmill to have more and more of something. You’re absolutely right.

That internal abuse that we give ourselves because we don’t feel like we deserve to spend money on ourselves, to have those designer clothes, to buy the more superior food products, all those kinds of behaviours.

The other thing I want to touch upon actually in terms of abuse is elderly abuse. This was something I didn’t really think about. What kind of thing goes on around elderly financial abuse?

Well, it’s horrific. In some cases it can be the worst type and that’s because of how vulnerable the elderly person is. I think there’s a huge amount of vulnerability. The position of vulnerability is extremely attached to financial abuse. Anybody that’s vulnerable, whether that be a decision-making, a physical form, they’re frail. This is why elder abuse is so rife.

The thing with elder abuse is it’s sad because you see it all on social media and we should look after our elders. We know that they’re old so we almost dismiss them as a generation. I think elder abuse is things like where you may see an elder person, or if you’ve got an elderly neighbour who is not keeping themselves clean, or doesn’t look like they’ve got the money, or the financial means to keep themselves in good food or take care of themselves.

Often elder abuse is presented in a deterioration in clothing, personal hygiene, there’s all of a sudden a family member or somebody who has popped up from nowhere. You’re looking at a neighbour going, I didn’t know you had a niece and all of a sudden the niece arrives or the nephew arrives or whoever, and they’re making decisions. Often it’s almost like the elder person is treated like a child. There’s almost this interception of, we make the decisions for them. They don’t know what they’re saying. They don’t understand technology so I’m going to the bank for them.

In the course, you’ll remember, Debra Kent talked about some cases of elder abuse that she had experienced as a financial advisor. It’s heart-breaking because they’re so vulnerable and the pace of change in life with technology and such. There are so many perfect opportunities for abuse to occur.

My great auntie in New York is 96 years old. She’s got premium bonds like they’re going out of fashion. She has got thousands. The reality is, they’re not going to pay her cheques anymore. They’re going to pay it into a bank account. She hasn’t got a clue what she’s doing but she will not let go of control and let us help her because she’s fearful. That’s her money.

Even when they’ve had no reason at all to feel in any way, in any danger or a victim of financial abuse, they’re stubborn and they want to keep onto it. It’s a very, very sensitive area for sure. But it’s just about being very aware as people. Watching, questioning that thing that you see that’s not right. Why all of a sudden do we not see Brian anymore when we did see him every Friday, where is he?

This is very prevalent also in narcissistic abuse, which can be very connected. One of my best friends is a narcissistic abuse specialist. She’s incredible and she has herself been through narcissistic abuse and come out the other end but one of the signs can be linked very much towards that control issue.

What happens is the victim can be made to feel like they’re very isolated. One of the signs might be is that they have had lots of friends around them, but all of a sudden they don’t. They don’t want to talk, or they’re not wanting to be part of that circle of friends because they’re made to feel like they’re not worthy to have them have around you. That could be another red flag.

I talk regularly about the five ways of wellbeing. I think one of the things when I talk about that as a subject, we need to all be a bit more aware rather than walking around with our heads in our mobile phones. If something doesn’t feel right, ask that person is everything okay today? How are things going with your granddaughter? Or if you ever want to talk, rather than going it’s none of my business and be very British about it.

After doing financial abuse course myself, I was walking to the train station and I walked past this girl and I thought she was crying. She was all red eyed. I just said, I hope you don’t mind, are you okay? She went, yes, the bloody wind in your face. It was making her eyes water, but then she went, thank you and we joked about the weather.

I’m so glad I asked because if I hadn’t and she’d been in a trauma or I might have been the only person that spoke to her that day.

Today's episode is such an important subject and one that's really close to my heart. This conversation today is all about the signs of financial abuse.

How do we approach what can be quite an awkward or uncomfortable situation?

When you do become aware, you worry less about how you ask. You just ask and worry about the consequences later. One of the things that I will definitely say, if I saw you were in any distress, or if you were a friend or a neighbour, I would say, I hope you don’t mind me asking, but is everything okay? Now you can say, is everything okay in the general sense? Or is everything okay with you today? You literally bring it down to the moment.

That’s a very powerful thing to do is to bring it down to the moment. Are you okay today? Well, actually I’m not okay today. I’m not having a good day, for example. The other thing as well, that if you suspect there’s something untoward going on, you can say, I hope you don’t mind me mentioning this, but when Fred mentioned about the finances are nothing to do with you, I didn’t feel very nice about that. How did that make you feel?

You go to the subject, the thing that you saw, which was fact. Fred did say that to you, or whoever said that, or did that, then you bring it straight to yourself and say, and when I saw that, I felt quite sad for you. Nobody can argue with how you feel. You can’t say to me, no, you did not feel like that. Then you’re saying, how do you feel about that? Or you might say, does that happen often? Or is this something that he or she does all of the time?

It’s almost like a deflect of the situation, what you saw. Bring it back to how you felt, and then you push it to them. They might say, well I never really thought about it. He does that a lot. It might just be that they’ve not even noticed. It might be no, no, no, no, no, no. I don’t want to talk about it and then you know there’s a problem.

Then the next bit of the conversation is, tell me more about that. I’m happy to listen without judgment. This is when knowledge around mental health training really kicks in, in terms of positioning wording. If in doubt, ask. I think it’s, Brene Brown in the empathy video, nothing ever bad happens when you’re showing an empathetic response. They can say it’s nothing to do with you. You can say, okay but I was just checking. I’m genuinely concerned if you ever want to talk about it, I’m always here. My door is always open. We can always chat.

One of the ladies in my communities, listening to this at the moment has asked would that not make them shut off even more?

It depends. Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t. But it’s worth a try. We are very stiff upper lip, very reserved. That’s not everybody, of course. We do have this ‘it’s none of my business’ thing. Well, we don’t want to pry, it’s none of our business, but that question might be the only time I’ve ever been asked, because we think that no one’s interested or no one really cares. It could save a life. It’s quite simple.

Every aspect of our bodies, and this is probably a more of a mental health thing than it is financial abuse, but every aspect of our physical body is attached to our brain. When our brain thinks, our bodies will react physically. That’s what everyone can see. If someone changes the context of their face, that’s the physical reaction to the question. If you spot that someone totally shuts down you can say, I can see this as quite a difficult thing for you to talk about given your reaction just there. If you ever want to talk about it or say would you like to talk about that? They might say, no, no, it’s not a problem. Are you sure it’s not a problem.

You’ll know when to stop prying. You’ll know when to stop.

I think also pulling out some reference for them. Maybe using an example of somebody else.

Yeah. Or you can make it up. There are huge amounts of resources available online for the victims of financial abuse. There is so much support and the awareness of it is significantly increasing. I think if we all took a moment just to think about friendships, relationships, parents, grandparents, where money’s been used by way of control, we’ll all have a lists.

In the example I use about my auntie, my mum will say to me, we can’t all go bullying in there, Michelle telling them what to do. I’m like, but mum, for her own benefit, she’s not going to get any of her premium bonds if we don’t get this sorted. My mum’s so concerned about abuse and overstepping the mark that she’s doing nothing.

Ignorance is worse. Isn’t it? We could literally talk about this for hours. It’s such a big subject.

What about somebody who may be reading this and thinking, I actually am in that situation at the moment, what can I do to get help?

I can share some links, and you’ve also got access to things through the course, of a number of highly confidential, extremely supportive sources of information for those that are suffering from financial abuse, coercive control. There’s lots. You only have to Google it. There is just oodles and oodles of stuff.

With the work we’re doing with the certification, one of the reasons we set it up is because we want to create a directory of experts who have a specialism in handling cases and situations where financial abuse is prevalent.

Just to put that into some context, I can’t tell you where it is, because obviously the sensitivity of it, but there’s a location close to me in Hartfordshire. They’ve got cabins and they were offering them out. Because of the severe increase in domestic abuse and violence within families with COVID and lockdown, they are literally opening all of their cabins out free to families that are fleeing domestic abuse. I got introduced to them because one of their families has suffered very severely from financial abuse and they’d been introduced to me as a financial abuse specialist because I’ve also qualified, as you have, and there’s an introduction that’s been done.

We need more of me. We need more people regardless of their role or what they do, whether they’re a financial planner, lawyer, accountant, or just some person that just wants to know how to do this and help. We want there to be this directory of experts, because it’s all well and good going online but actually to have someone who’s got a specialism, that that can sometimes be more preferable to other people.

There is oodles of support out there. The challenge is, it depends how severe it is, because if it’s really severe, there is no access to the internet. Web browsing is tracked. Phone calls are tracked. There’s a particular number that if you just text it, somebody will phone you back on with a withheld number on the mobile. It’s like an emergency SOS text number. There is incredible support.

But the thing I would say is nobody deserves to suffer at the hands of any abuse in any way, shape or form. It’s a control and it’s got to stop. It’s been around forever and it will probably continue to be around for decades yet. But this all helps, all this awareness, talking about it, education. It’s all a step in the right direction.

You’re absolutely right. There’s no particular person that’s more susceptible.

We’ve seen lots of cases of celebrities. The Tina Turner film is a great film to watch to see that coercive, controlling, narcissistic relationship. It’s not just the poor, it’s not just the wealthy and in some ways wealthy individuals can be more susceptible because it can be hidden.

Catherine, do you remember from the training, someone said they want what you’ve got. That’s it. That line for me was it. That’s exactly what the problem is.

Often those that are abusing have less than what you have, and it could be less status, less money, less friends, less family so therefore they want to remove you from your family circle. They want to extract your money for them. It’s basically they want what you’ve got.

Wow. Well, I thank you so much, Michelle. I’m sure we’ll be back on this conversation again on another occasion, but thank you so much for just sharing some of the signs, the signals of financial abuse.

Emily’s just shared here, live on this video that just this discussion about raising awareness is the first step. The more we can raise awareness with this, the better.

Candice has also shared here live with us that as a children’s lawyer, she’s dealt with clients suffering domestic and financial abuse. She’s been through it herself. I’m so sorry to hear that Candice, and has expressed an interest. We’ve shared all of the details of training program itself in the resources below.

I’ll drop some links into our social media channels for those of you watching live today as well. But thank you so, so much for your mission, your purpose around this subject, Michelle. I know you’re very passionate about it and I really value your time.

An absolute pleasure Catherine, and keep up all the work you’re doing. It’s absolutely wonderful. The more we talk, the more we’ll get done.


Financial Abuse Useful Resources

*Please note the above document has been kept deliberately very plain.

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