Cut off from banks, 15% of Australians vulnerable to loan sharks

People without basic financial services may approach loan sharks when emergency strikes. Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ciscel.

Around 15.6% of Australian adults have limited or no access to basic financial services like a transaction account, a credit card or insurance, putting them at risk of predatory lending, a new study has found.

The study, conducted by the Centre for Social Impact at the University of NSW, examined data provided by the National Australia Bank and the Roy Morgan single source survey, which is based on 50,000 face to face interviews per year.

“It’s the largest study of its type in Australia and probably the world on financial exclusion,” the report’s lead author, Chris Connolly, told The Conversation.

The researchers found that 0.8% of adults had no financial services products and 14.8% of adults only had one key financial services product out of the trifecta: a transaction account, a credit card or insurance.

The researchers also calculated an average cost of maintaining these three financial products was around $1740 per year. For the bottom 10% of earners, that constitutes 15% of their income, putting the cost of financial services out of reach.

The study found that those who had no bank account, insurance or credit card would find it difficult to raise $3000 in an emergency.

“That makes them more likely to apply for credit from pawn brokers and fringe lenders, where the fees are high and you are likely to be rolling the loan over for the rest of your life,” he said.

“Often these people don’t need to raise a lot, it’s just $1500 or so. But the mainstream credit providers don’t deal with that part of the market very well. It’s hard to get credit cards with a small limit. That’s a major lesson from the report,” he said.

People who were born overseas, indigenous people and those with only primary school level education were the most likely to face exclusion from financial services, the report found.