24 Jul 2018

Banks refusing to give sex workers accounts: 'It's ridiculous'

11:15 am on 24 July 2018

A Wellington brothel owner is furious at banks who will not let her open a business account.

The Oldest Profession, a sex worker with a client

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Prostitution was decriminalised 15 years ago but that has not put an end to what sex workers have called 'discrimination' by the banking industry.

Mary Brennan from Funhouse Escorts said she had been turned away from every bank in the country - simply because they would not deal with the sex industry.

She described what happened when she tried to set up a phone-sex service.

"We had a website built, we had a woman who had done a lot of phone sex work over the years. She was wanting to train people.

"We had an online payment gateway organised, all we needed was a New Zealand bank account so we approached every bank in New Zealand and no one would take it."

Banks had no reason to decline her, she said.

"It's ridiculous. We've got no criminal record, we don't have a debt to our name ... it's just crazy."

Another sex worker, who did not want to be named, said she had a similar experience with ANZ when trying to open a business account.

"It was really horrible ... they said they didn't deem it a real occupation."

And while the sex workers said the treatment was unfair the banks weren't breaking any laws.

While they are not allowed to discriminate against individuals due to occupation, they can decline to give credit or products to certain industries.

ANZ said it does not have a policy preventing it from banking sex businesses, and that the women were given incorrect advice if they were told otherwise.

However, the bank said it can choose not to take any customers it felt might not be able to comply with the law or risks such as fraud.

Westpac said it did not have a ban on working with the sex industry but businesses were assessed on whether they might cause harm to people and communities.

However, BNZ did include prostitution in a list of activities which it could refuse business.

"Types of industries in which BNZ may decline customer applications include businesses engaged in prostitution and brothel keeping," the company said in a statement.

Prostitutes' Collective national co-ordinator Dame Catherine Healy said a refusal to do business with sex workers was sad but not surprising.

"There's a lot of judgement around sex work and you hear it, you hear casual references made where sex workers are at the bottom of the heap."

Despite having decriminalised prostitution in 2003, New Zealand still had come a long way to go, she said.