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Starling launches ‘hide references’ to protect victims of abuse

A ‘UK first’ according to the digital bank, letting customers blur abusive reference messages.


Starling Bank.

Starling Bank now lets its account holders hide unwanted reference messages attached to payments from specific payees, in a move to protect customers who might be victims of economic abuse.

As digital banking has taken off over the past decade, payment references have among some groups and communities, become a de facto messaging standard.

From “Thanks mum” when repaying money borrowed from a parent, to “Let’s meet soon?” attached to a 1p payment to a friend, however, these reference fields can and are also being used for insults and abuse.

Starling points to the story of Rebecca (whose name has been changed to protect her identity), a customer whose abusive ex-partner was ordered to pay child maintenance.

“Although the money should have been paid as a lump sum, he would pay in small instalments with payment references that would remind me of times he verbally and physically abused me,” Rebecca explains.

“The references weren’t ever flagged by the bank because to an outsider, they didn’t look abusive, but when they popped up on my phone, I would get flashbacks to his abuse. The messages were a way for him to maintain that power and control over me, showing me that even though I had left him, I would never be free from his harassment.”

For a customer, it’s also a complex and sensitive issue to explain to a bank, who might not be in a position to understand the references or why they are causing distress.

With the new ‘hide references’ feature that conversation isn’t necessary, as a customer in Rebecca’s position can now tap on any payment with an unwanted reference message, and simply tap on the ‘Hide’ icon.

This not only hides that particular reference, but also all those past and future payment references from a particular payee.

The feature doesn’t block the payments and can also be easily reversed by a customer if needed.

Starling said it worked closely with the UK’s Surviving Economic Abuse charity to develop and launch the feature, and is part of its ongoing work as a signatory of UK Finance’s Financial Abuse Code.

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