Bank cancels credit card, closes account after husband's death

Author
Lane Nichols, NZ Herald ,
Publish Date
Thu, 20 May 2021, 12:17PM
James and Gabrielle O'Callaghan were loyal Westpac Bank customers for 56 years. (Photo / Supplied)
James and Gabrielle O'Callaghan were loyal Westpac Bank customers for 56 years. (Photo / Supplied)

Bank cancels credit card, closes account after husband's death

Author
Lane Nichols, NZ Herald ,
Publish Date
Thu, 20 May 2021, 12:17PM

A grieving pensioner lost access to her money after Westpac Bank stripped her of her credit card and closed an account following her husband's death.

Gabrielle O'Callaghan's family says the 87-year-old widow has been a loyal Westpac customer for 56 years without a "blemish" on her record.

They are appalled by her treatment and plan to lodge a complaint with the Banking Ombudsman.

"It's because she's a woman. It's just so wrong," daughter Martine O'Callaghan told the Herald.

"She's so lucky she's got us to support her. She's got no access to her money and they don't even care."

After the Herald put questions to the bank, Westpac apologised to the family yesterday afternoon for the distress caused and offered financial compensation.

"Gabrielle's experience has highlighted a gap in the way that we handle our deceased estates," a Westpac manager wrote.

"Please be assured this has been raised with our senior leaders to make sure no other customers find themselves in the same position."

Gabrielle lives in a Hamilton rest home. She lost her husband of 63 years, James, in October.

The family believed he was the primary signatory on the couple's joint checking and credit accounts.

However Westpac said it was not a joint account and that Gabrielle was listed as an "additional", rather than "joint" holder of her late husband's credit card, "which meant she was unable to continue transacting on the card following his death".

This month she visited the Westpac branch in Chartwell to have the accounts changed into her sole name.

Martine said Gabrielle was shocked to be told her Platinum Mastercard, which she also used for Eftpos transactions, would be cancelled because she no longer had a steady income stream.

Martine told the Herald her father had retired 30 years ago, meaning the couple had not had a steady income since 1991.

"Nothing has changed."

The teller advised Gabrielle she could apply for another credit card but it was highly unlikely to be approved, saying the bank's "estate team" would be in contact about her options.

A week later, on Tuesday last week, Gabrielle received a call advising that her card had been cancelled and could no longer be used.

When Gabrielle threatened to contact the media, a staff member advised that a debit card to access the remaining checking account would be couriered to her within two days.

The card is yet to arrive.

Martine said the ordeal had left the octogenarian with no access to her money, making her reliant on family to do her shopping and pay her bills.

She cannot withdraw money from a cash machine and has difficulty accessing a bank branch because she doesn't drive or use public transport due to her poor vision.

Martine said the "cherry on the cake" was her mother being told by Westpac that her 120,000 "hotpoints" rewards - worth $650 in petrol vouchers - 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 irony was that Gabrielle, who had been a stay-at-home mother, was financially savvy and had always taken care of the family finances, Martine said.

"Dad wouldn't have had a clue in the wide world."

Gabrielle had a sizeable term deposit of more than $250,000, but planned to withdraw the money on maturity and deposit it with another bank because of her treatment by Westpac, which recently posted a $523 million half-year net profit.

Martine said the saga had been deeply distressing for her elderly mother, who had been a loyal and responsible customer with a faultless credit history since opening her first account with Westpac in Henderson in 1964.

"It would be different if she was a defaulter from up the wazoo, but she's never defaulted on anything.

"My dad would be absolutely appalled that my mum is going through this.

"It's not great PR."

Martine said she was speaking out to make other people aware the same thing could happen to their elderly parents.

Westpac said it valued Gabrielle's banking relationship and was "thankful for her continued loyalty" over more than 50 years.

"It was very disappointing when we learned of her recent experience and the stress it caused her. Our Chartwell bank manager has contacted Mrs O'Callaghan's daughter today to personally apologise and remedy this situation."

Gabrielle was listed as an "additional", rather than "joint" holder of her late husband's credit card, "which meant she was unable to continue transacting on the card following his death".

"However, we didn't take the right steps to make sure she received her own debit card, as requested, before her husband's account was closed. We will be reviewing our processes to ensure this mistake doesn't happen again."

Westpac was urgently couriering a new debit card and had made a "goodwill payment" to acknowledge her long relationship with Westpac and the distress its error had caused.

It was also making the full value of the couple's hotpoints available to Gabrielle and investigating why there was a "miscommunication" with the family about this process.