HSBC has become the first bank in Hong Kong to deploy staff with specialist knowledge in dementia to help sufferers overcome difficulties managing their finances.
The move comes after a survey found many struggled with financial matters such as processing account information and remembering passwords.
The bank said on Thursday it would provide both financial and practical support for the city’s growing number of patients as the population rapidly aged.
Some 45 “dementia ambassadors” would offer advice to those in need, according to Greg Hingston, head of retail banking and wealth management.
Voice identification systems and more modern ATM services would be rolled out to help sufferers, he added.
Maggie Lee Nga-yee, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Association, applauded the bank’s move and said it would also help raise awareness of the ailment.
“Some elderly people with dementia repeatedly withdraw cash from their account and forget they have done it,” she said.
More than 80 per cent of sufferers need help with banking from family or carers, according to a survey by the association and HSBC in October.
The study polled 215 family members or carers of people with dementia.
Nearly half said they had helped with banking by opening a joint account with the sufferer. Many feared the patient in their family was easy prey for scammers.
Dementia is marked by a gradual decline in mental capacity, including memory and the ability to communicate.
Lee said common problems included difficulty understanding passbook information and bank statements, and trouble talking to staff and remembering a PIN or signature.
The number of Hongkongers aged 65 or above is set to more than double in the coming 20 years. The elderly will account for more than 36 per cent of the population by 2066, according to data from the Census and Statistics Department. The number of people aged 80 or above is projected to reach its pinnacle by 2050, and at least a third will have dementia.
Dr David Dai, chairman of the Alzheimer’s association, said the families of sufferers should undertake financial planning in the early stages of dementia when mental cognition was more intact.
“This is the golden time for them to plan their financial matters in advance with their family before they become mentally incapable of handling banking transactions,” Dai said.
HSBC pledged to extend the number of ambassadors to 160 by the first quarter of next year, with a view to providing support across a wide range of branches.
Competitor Bank of China said it provided help for people with special needs, including voice navigation ATMs for the visually impaired and easier ATM services for the elderly if they forgot a password.
The bank also has “customer service ambassadors” at branches ready to offer help, and offers finger vein authentication, which uses veins in a person’s finger to identify him or her. Unlike fingerprints and facial or voice recognition, finger vein identities cannot be replicated.
Standard Chartered Bank did not respond to a request for comment.