Bronwyn Groot went from BNZ branch teller to being the bank's fraud and scam intelligence unit on the back of her voluntary work educating the elderly about scams. At the start of Elder Abuse Awareness Week she talks to Rob Stock about our hidden elder abuse shame.
What was your first paid work?
My first job straight from school was with BNZ, but I started etching out my place in the workforce early, babysitting, pumping gas, and mowing lawns.
How did your parents shape your attitude to money?
Mum and Dad worked really hard for their money and always said you had to earn it before you could spend it. One of Dad's many quotes was, "Nothing in life is free, kiddo."
How would you describe your own attitude?
In many aspects I'm just like my parents. I work hard, and save hard but also make sure there's a good time along the way. It's all about balance.
How did you get into your current line of work as a specialist in financial elder abuse at BNZ?
I came back to the BNZ after a few years away, and was shocked to hear stories about older people in my community who had fallen victim to some sort of scam or fraud. After doing a bit of research, I put together a presentation that I took out on a volunteer basis and presented to my local community groups to raise awareness and educate people on scams that exist. The management at BNZ found out about what I was doing and with their support, I now do that role fulltime and I love every minute of it.
What is financial elder abuse?
Financial elder abuse is stealing or defrauding an older person of goods and/or property. It can come in many forms including taking money or property, forging a signature, getting an older person to sign a will or power of attorney (POA) through deception or undue influence.
It's Elder Abuse Awareness Week. There are a number of scams out there. What are the worst ones?
Not sure we have enough room!! The worst one in my opinion would be where a vulnerable older person has been specifically preyed on with the intent of exploiting them. For example, an older person is befriended; continual contact is made, pretending to have their best interests at heart. But sooner or later a request for money has come through. This is extremely emotional and damaging for the vulnerable person and difficult to recover from as their trust has been betrayed.
If you could make one change to New Zealand law, or society, to reduce elder abuse, or increase its detection, what would it be?
It would be communication between family members. Stay in touch with your older relatives, talk to them about their day and just take a general interest in what they've got going on. A lot of the time, people are just lonely or isolated and when they reach out to strangers they can be taken advantage of.
Has your work made you cynical about what people will do for money?
No, not cynical, but the lengths people will go to to defraud vulnerable people still astounds me. If I can help just one person, it is worth all the hard work and emotion.
When you think about Bronwyn Groot, senior citizen, many years from now, what things will she have in place to make sure her finances are looked after, if she can't do it herself?
I have already ensured that I have wills, life insurance and POAs in place. No matter what your age, you need to have these conversations, though they may be challenging. That way, if the unexpected occurs, everyone is on the same page and everyone will know your wishes.
If a child asked you the best way to make money, what would you say?
Work hard, save hard, don't lend money to your mates and know your maths so you can't be taken advantage of.
Tell us about your best investment decision?
The best advice someone gave me was always join your work superannuation (if they have one) and/or a KiwiSaver scheme as soon as you can.
Don't put it off.
- Sunday Star Times