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Barrier free banking in Edmonton

26 April 2017
Prosper Canada is excited to be working with E4C one of five Financial Empowerment Champions (FECs) working to improve the financial well-being of Canadians living on low incomes.  In partnership with Bissell Centre and the Institute for Advancement of Aboriginal Women, this collaborative aims to expand financial empowerment interventions in their region as part of their work to prevent and eliminate poverty in Edmonton.
One of the benefits of working with champions in different regions is that we get to learn about the innovative ways communities are financially empowering people on low incomes. E4C and Bissell Centre recently told us about the unique services being offered by Four Directions Financial, a financial institution that’s meeting the very specific needs of people living on low incomes in Edmonton. 
Addressing a gap in mainstream banking
Four Directions Financial, run by Boyle Street Community Services, offers financial services that meet the unique needs of people who are homeless or living in poverty. They provide free to low fee bank accounts, which include free accounts for seniors (and students enrolled in a registered academic program) and a $9.95  unlimited transaction account. Four Directions also provides a low flat fee cheque cashing service, which is free for clients with an existing account and $7 for those without a bank account. They can provide money to clients immediately, which helps to prevent clients from accessing money lenders, cheque cashing services, or carrying around their entire month’s income. They also offer direct deposit/debit, and have partnered with Alberta Works Income Assistance and Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped to ensure clients can have funds deposited directly into their account.
Margaret Archibald, Manager of Four Directions Financial, says that their mission goes beyond offering easy access to financial services. “We also provide ongoing financial education to community members on various topics like saving, investing, credit, debt, and moving towards financial independence. By supporting community members in this way, we hope to provide a pathway out of poverty,” she says.
Retinal and fingerprint scanning is meeting a critical need
Four Directions Financial is also addressing the challenge many people in poverty face in getting and keeping a valid piece of government identification. People living on a low income often lose their ID or have it stolen. The process of getting ID can be difficult, and they are costly to replace. As a result, people with no ID are unable to open a bank account or access other social services.
Four Directions Financial partners with the ID program and storage service at Boyle Street Community Services to ensure community members can get and keep an ID. Four Directions stores over 2,000 ID files which allows community members to sign IDs in and out as needed on a daily basis. They also have biometric technology to increase access to banking services. “Individuals with one piece of ID are entered into our biometric system which is capable of gathering a retinal and fingerprint scan for ID purposes,” Margaret explained. “This means that community members don’t have to carry their ID around to do their banking. This reduces the risk of loss or the need for replacement, which can cost $50 to $100.”
Bissell Centre is one of the many community organizations that believes the services offered at Four Directions is helping to improve the financial well-being of the people they serve. “As the result of Four Directions Financial opening a few blocks away from us, we are working to overcome banking accessibility issues by having frontline staff accompany their unbanked participants to the financial institution to open accounts,” said Charissa Hoppenbrouwers, Manager of Community Development, Bissell Centre. “Because of the unique ID requirements, safe access in a supported environment, and harm reduction measures such as biometrics, we are very excited about the potential of this new institution to transform our client’s lives.”
Supporting the needs of Indigenous people
Boyle Street Community Services serves around 12,000 people a year, and 65 to 70 per cent of the people they serve identify as Indigenous. Margaret said many of the Indigenous clients she serves have moved to Edmonton from remote reserves or remote northern communities because they are unemployed, often without housing, and looking for opportunities. Many struggle to find employment and end up living in poverty.
“It’s a real challenge because we are helping Indigenous people who are affected by a much broader issue,” she said. “Many Indigenous people in our region experience discrimination. Some won’t even go to a homeless shelter because of the judgment they face and they end up living on the street. Many of our clients are receiving huge lump sum payments from the federal government [due to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement] but they have no bank account. Many end up waiting to find a place to cash their cheque where they won’t feel judged. Until such time, a lawyer holds onto their cheque which means they don’t have access to the funds.” However, Margaret explained that Four Directions Financial has made great strides to help Indigenous people, and other community members in Edmonton. “Through the services Four Directions offers in combination with the support services at Boyle Street Community Services, we build a strong relationship with our clients. We end up becoming a part of their families and they trust us,” she said. 
Andrew’s story
Andrew, 52 years old and self-identifying as Indigenous, was homeless for over 17 years and is now a client of Four Directions Financial. He lived on the streets of Edmonton, moving between social service agencies for assistance with food, clothing, health care and addiction supports. Andrew never received government funding because he was identified as being able to work and only qualified for emergency funding twice in 17 years, despite struggling with an addiction. Andrew finally made it onto a housing list and was housed in February 2017. One of the requirements for the housing program was to open a bank account to receive income assistance. He visited Four Directions Financial where a staff member was able to go with him to Boyle Street Community Services to get an ID and open an account. Four Directions also provided Andrew with a bank statement and direct deposit form. Since being housed, Andrew comes to Four Directions Financial regularly and has told staff how much he loves his new apartment and the freedom he has to access funds from his bank account anytime he wishes. Andrew says he could not have done it without the support from Boyle Street Community Services and Four Directions Financial. 
More about Four Directions Financial 
Learn more about Four Directions Financial.
Note: Client name has been changed to protect their identity and confidentiality.