Banking the ‘unbanked’

by | Dec 3, 2018 | News, Uncategorized

By: Zachary Flynn

ATB Financial has been reinventing the way people look at traditional banking.
The Alberta bank has a number of pilot projects on the go that each take a different approach on how they work with customers.

ATB’s Four Directions branch works with Boyle Street Community Services to help those who they call the “previously unbanked.”

“When we’re talking about the ‘unbanked’ we’re usually talking about folks who have had real issues around acquiring government issued ID,” said Four Directions Branch Manager, Marg Archibald.

To set up an account, a customer needs one piece of photo ID and one government issued ID. These can include healthcare cards, drivers licenses and birth certificates.

“For many people who live on the street or do not have safe housing, they often have lots of break-ins or their mail is stolen,” said Archibald.

She said that Boyle Street Community Services works with people to help them get the necessary ID to become more self-sufficient. They also have the ID program that works with people to help them get proper government-issued identification.

Participants in the ID program can store their ID and other valuable documents at the branch.

“The cost and time required to acquire a new piece of ID is very time consuming and very costly,” said Archibald.

In the meantime, the Four Directions branch uses biometric data like fingerprints and retina scanners to build a customer profile. They can use this biometric data as their second form of identification to open a bank account at the branch.

“No other bank will permit them to open an account with a healthcare card whereas we can, but we also have to use biometrics as the additional source of ID,” said Archibald.

People that use biometrics to open accounts at Four Directions cannot bank elsewhere, they also do not have debit or credit cards. The Four Directions branch serves as a place to cash cheques, store ID and save money rather than carry all of their cash, cheques and identification on them 24/7.

Over 1000 people have opened an account at the Four Directions branch. Over 70% of these individuals are a part of the ID program.

ATB is also taking a new approach to the way artists apply for loans and mortgages.

Arts and Culture

At The Branch for Arts and Culture, people like artists, who have multiple varying sources of income can come for financing and for financial advice.

“A lot of what we do here is trying to take a different perspective to artist income,” said Ben Spencer, Director of The Branch for Arts and Culture.

“Creatives tend to not make money in the same ways as regular salaried workers and banks haven’t had a great grasp on how to translate that to useful credit offerings whether that’s a personal mortgage or a business line of credit.”

Spencer said that many of their customers are artists, musicians and people in the theatre industry. He said that at traditional banks, many people in this industry would find a difficult time getting credit.

The branch isn’t designed to look like a bank and it has very little signage. The space is filled with art and there is a stage that they invite their artistic customers to perform. He said the branch serves as both a bank and also a community space.

“The outcome we really want is creative people who have a higher standard of living and who have better access to financial services and who can spend more time and energy creating beautiful things to enrich the rest of our lives,” said Spencer.

New Tech

ATB has an entire department dedicated to research and developing new technologies and Wellington Holbrook is ATB’s Chief Transformations Officer.

“Banks are big computers, so technology is really important to being a successful financial institution,” said Holbrook. “We look ahead to the future and it’s going to be technologies like open source digital platforms. It’s going to be artificial intelligence. It’s going to be the cloud.”

Holbrook said that they have been working on their “chatbot” that lets customers bank by talking to an AI assistant. Currently, you can download a separate app on your mobile device to use the “chatbot”, but Holbrook said that he hopes to see this feature integrated into ATB’s online banking app within the next year.

“We’ll probably be bringing more of that kind of technology into our branches, but I think there are even more exciting things to come,” said Holbrook.

Photo Source: Global News

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