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Alberta bank launches initiative for homeless to get financial services

ATB aims to provide better banking access to vulnerable Edmontonians
WATCH ABOVE: A new ATB agency has opened up next to Edmonton's Boyle Street Community Services. It's a first of its kind in Alberta and as Quinn Ohler reports, it's about much more than just banking.

A new initiative aims to provide Edmonton’s less fortunate with better access to banking.

ATB Financial and Boyle Street Community Services have partnered to start a new community agency called Four Directions Financial, which focuses on helping those who are homeless or living in poverty, many of whom were unable to get bank accounts in the past.

“It’s been painful to witness this lack of access to mainstream financial services,” Boyle Street executive director Julian Daly said on Monday.

Daly said when clients of Boyle Street Community Services don’t have access to banking, they can fall victim to payday loan companies- which offer a high-interest rate, cheque cashing companies that often take a large portion of the money or street-level lenders.

READ MORE: Payday lenders feeling pinch of Alberta crackdown

“If they can’t repay it, sometimes very severe physical violence is exacted on people as punishment,” Daly said.

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Three years ago, Bryan Kenny was homeless and an addict. He would cash a cheque and then carry around all of the money he had.

“When you can’t get (identification), it stops you from getting an account almost anywhere,” Kenny said.

Now he’s a customer of Four Directions, which works on a minimum-barriers model.  Clients only need one piece of identification if they sign up for the biometrics account.

Clients only need one piece of identification if they sign up for the biometrics account.

READ MORE: Boyle Street redevelopment moves forward with $250K grant from Alberta government

The biometrics allow the agency to scan a person’s retina or fingerprints to identify them, so if you lose your ID or bank card, there’s no issue.

It also offers the same services as any ATB location and once an account is set up, customers can bank at any ATB Financial.

“What we’ve done is married up some of the most advanced technology of banking to create a real, approachable, easy-to-deal with organization that’s actually run by the community,” said Dave Mowat, president and CEO of ATB Financial.  “It’s a financial institution that is owned and operated by the community organization, which just pulls the stress down completely.”

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Four Directions Financial client Bryan Kenny shows off the biometric technology at the branch.
Four Directions Financial client Bryan Kenny shows off the biometric technology at the branch. Global News

The agency collects a small monthly fee to help with operating costs.

In addition to the use of biometrics technology, some of the other unique features include daily restrictions on withdrawls that are set by the customer, direct deposit of government cheques and making the agency open to everyone – not just clients at Boyle Street.

“Having a mainstream financial service like this, which is about keeping people safe and helping people save and not exploiting them, makes the world of difference,” Daly added.

The service is the first of its kind in Alberta.

So far, over 500 clients have opened accounts and more than 30 percent of Four Directions clients see savings in their accounts at the end of every month.

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