Nick Bruining: Not all seniors are tech savvy and deserve more than a digital slap in the face

Headshot of Nick Bruining
Nick Bruining
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Big corporations and others are fooling themselves if they think that all seniors have embraced the technological age with gusto.
Big corporations and others are fooling themselves if they think that all seniors have embraced the technological age with gusto. Credit: Hongqi Zhang/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Services Australia, the Australian Taxation Office, banks, big corporations and others are fooling themselves if they think all seniors have embraced the technological age with gusto.

The truth is many thousands of our silver-haired devils rely on the good nature of family and friends to mask the fact that they wouldn’t have a clue about interacting with big institutions via the internet.

Big organisations continuously pat themselves on the back, boasting of their continual improvements in efficiency. That efficiency comes about by sending every customer enquiry, report or request off to a website or a smartphone app.

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That translates to improving the bottom line by sacking customer service staff and slashing the expenses associated with those annoying pests — the customers they claim to serve.

Of course, it’s always dangerous to generalise and there are a good number of senior Aussies who embrace all things digital.

But a large number of elderly people only feel confident enough to check emails, Facebook and Instagram to see if their grandies have posted a picture. At a stretch, they might be coerced into paying some bills online.

But ask them to upload income and assets statements to Centrelink, lodge an insurance claim online or try to arrange a booking to see a professional? No chance.

Unless a friend or family member is prepared to do it on their behalf, many of these things are just simply abandoned and, in many cases, seniors miss out.

The other brutal truth is that if the privacy and security nerds ever get a hold of grandma, things would hit the fan.

Maybe it would come as a complete surprise to those in charge, but many logins by older “customers” are actually someone else pretending to be the customer. It’s the only way you can get things done. It is just too hard to battle through the bureaucratic nightmare of being added as an authorised person to act on someone’s behalf.

Certified this, certified that — sure, it’s about protecting against identity theft, but don’t forget that this mess is of your making, not theirs. Had you kept your offices staffed and even provided special arrangements for seniors, perhaps we might not find ourselves in this predicament?

Some time ago — and with much fanfare — we covered the grand opening of Centrelink’s dedicated offices for seniors. Scattered around the metropolitan area, these offices had their own entry and staff that just dealt with seniors’ claims and queries.

Bloody brilliant idea.

It appeared to be very successful. Sadly, the initiative was cancelled, and very quietly all the doors were closed.

Perhaps the horse has bolted and it’s too late to do anything about it, but why not clean up the “acting-on-behalf-of-someone” mess.

What could be done? Develop a simplified, national and centralised register of persons, properly authorised to act for others.

Copies of enduring powers of attorney, court orders, verified formal identification of all the parties involved — all lodged with one central body that can instantly verify the authority.

That authority could automatically be passed through to linked organisations such as Federal Government agencies like the ATO, Services Australia and MyAgedCare.

Dare I suggest it? institutions could readily check the validity of a registered authority online.

Either that, or open up the bloody offices again so people can come in and do their business!

Nick Bruining is an independent financial adviser and a member of the Certified Independent Financial Advisers Association

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