Abusive Teller Machine

Hacking an ATM to highlight financial abuse in Ireland.

Client: AIB

The Challenge

As part of AIB’s Group Advocacy initiative, which seeks to support customers experiencing a range of issues, they discovered that over 198,000 Irish women (1 in 10 over 15) are financially abused by their partners at any given time. Based on the scale of the problem, and knowing that this would affect many of its own customers, AIB reached out to Women’s Aid, a domestic abuse charity, who identified a lack of public awareness and understanding of financial abuse as a serious barrier to women seeking help to escape abusive relationships.

The Idea

To bring this hidden epidemic to the public’s attention, we didn’t simply want to communicate a big statistic. Abuse is a traumatic experience, so we wanted to put people in the shoes of a financial abuse victim (in a safe and controlled way) to give them a sense of the realities faced by these women on a daily basis. To achieve that, we took the most convenient interaction people have with money – withdrawing it from an ATM – and completely subverted that experience.

The Outcome

he Abusive Teller Machine was reprogrammed to behave like a controlling, abusive partner; asking a series of intrusive questions (‘Why do you need more money?’), threatening customers (‘If you’re lying I’ll find out… ‘) and making them plead for their own money (‘Now, what do you say?’), before ultimately being denied it. At the end of the experience, the reason for this interaction was revealed, with customers directed to learn the different forms of financial abuse and seek support through Women’s Aid if they, or someone they knew, were suffering financial abuse within their own relationships.

The Impact

In addition to the customers who experienced it firsthand, a film of the activation was released, receiving mass media coverage throughout Ireland and sparking conversations across social media, as women came forward to detail their own instances of surviving financial abuse. A hidden epidemic became a topic of long-overdue national conversation, while women who had been suffering in silence finally knew where to turn in taking the first step from victim to survivor.

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