The banks are reportedly turning away sex workers in a campaign of 'corporate slut shaming' – and NAB could be the worst offender

(Photo by Robert Cianflone, Getty Images)NAB stands accused by David Limbrick as the worst offender of denying services to sex workers.
  • Australia’s banks have been discriminating against sex workers and adult stores by shutting off accounts and refusing their financial services, MP David Limbrick has told the Victorian Upper House.
  • While many have been engaged in “corporate slut shaming”, the National Australia Bank (NAB) has been the worst offender, Limbrick has alleged.
  • He’s not the first to make the claims, with a 2017 report by the adult industry body the Eros Association documenting widespread discrimination by financial service providers, particularly amongst the big four banks.
  • That’s despite the shellacking each received during the royal commission for their misbehaviour, with Limbrick saying, “it is amazing to think that people in the banking industry think they have any moral high ground.”

It’s hard to imagine an industry with a worse reputation in Australia than its big banks.

Yet, the same tarnished entities are engaged in a campaign of “disgraceful discrimination” by turning their backs on Australian sex workers and adult store workers, according to Victorian MP David Limbrick.

“There have been cases recently where sex workers have received a letter from the bank, notifying them they need to look elsewhere for banking services as their accounts will be closed,” Limbrick told the Victorian upper house this week.

After a year-long royal commission battered their brand and their stock prices, the big banks were revealed to have ripped off customers to the tune of up to $10 billion. It’s a bold move then for those same disgraced entities to turn their backs on any customers.

“I condemn these policies, which effectively amount to corporate slut-shaming. It is amazing to think that people in the banking industry think they have any moral high ground,” Limbrick said.

Discrimination in financial services against the adult industry is widespread

While Limbrick’s criticisms were the latest, they certainly weren’t the first to point out banks’ apparent issue with the sex industry — one that is both legal and regulated in Australia.

The Eros Association — which represents adult-only businesses — interviewed its members in 2017 and found that virtually every one of the 24 surveyed had been denied financial services at one point.

“After having been a customer for over 20 years and [the bank] providing me with merchant facilities for adult shops, last night I received a phone call after 6pm telling me that my merchant services were going to be turned off today,” one business owner was quoted as saying.

“Sure enough at 1pm they pulled the plug leaving me with four retail stores, five online retail sites and our wholesale [business] without credit card transaction facilities. No letter, no notice.”

In fact, of all the complaints registered, two-thirds were against the big four, with even merchant services like Afterpay and ZipPay copping a mention.

The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell agreed the issue is prevalent.

“My office is continuously contacted by sex workers who have complained they have been denied banking services such as merchant facilities to allow them to conduct their business,” Carnell noted in a media release in response.

“This is an ongoing issue and we have expressed our concerns to the Australian Banking Association and individual banks involved.”

According to the Ombudsman’s figures, there are 25,000 people employed in the adult industry which turns over $2.6 billion a year.

“Bank accounts and financial services are essential for any legal business to operate. I encourage sex workers who feel they have been discriminated against by a financial service provider to contact ASBFEO for assistance,” Carnell said.

Limbrick believes NAB is the worst culprit amongst the banks

Interestingly, while many financial service providers appear to be denying their services to the industry, Limbrick believes there is a stand-out worst offender.

“I am reliably informed by good people that the absolute worst hypocrites are NAB, who simultaneously claim all kinds of virtues in their human rights, diversity and inclusion policies while treating sex workers like lesser human beings. I will continue to publicly shame NAB until they change this disgraceful policy,” he said.

It’s not the first time NAB has been singled out for bad behaviour.

The man who oversaw the royal commission, Kenneth Hayne, named and shamed then-CEO Andrew Thorburn and outgoing chair Ken Henry for the tin ear the bank had developed, with Hayne saying he was “not persuaded that NAB is willing to accept the necessary responsibility for deciding, for itself, what is the right thing to do, and then having its staff act accordingly”.

The latest scathing criticism by Limbrick will only add to the headaches awaiting incoming CEO Ross McEwan when he starts his new role early next year.

NAB, however, has hit back at the suggestion that it’s done anything wrong.

A spokesperson told Business Insider Australia that the bank does provide banking to individual sex workers but not to businesses such as brothels and escort services. NAB said it had stopped lending to those businesses two years ago and stopped banking for them more recently. Its stated reason for not doing so was that it was difficult to be certain illegal activities weren’t taking place on those premises.

Given the royal commission’s revelations, it’s lucky for the banks those same standards don’t apply to them.

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