From the moment they set foot in Canada, refugees and newcomers often have a hard time navigating a new language and looking after their financial well-being while trying to understand the Canadian tax, legal, and banking systems.
“Many refugees and newcomers often find it challenging to open a bank account and access financial products and services upon their arrival,” explains Ashley Grewal, Community Investment Operations Manager at Vancity. “Opening a bank account is an essential first step in building credit and safely managing money.”
Since the 1990s, Vancity has opened bank accounts for thousands of refugees transitioning through the Immigrant Services Society of BC (ISSofBC) and other agencies that focus on resettlement work. In 2023 alone, Vancity opened over 2,400 new accounts for refugees and displaced people.
Vancity and the Immigrant Services Society of BC (ISSofBC) have had a long history of partnership and support. In 2016, we helped finance the organization’s Welcome Centre for government-assisted refugees in Vancouver (pictured above).
The 58,000-square-feet building includes housing units, a healthcare clinic, classrooms, a Vancity banking kiosk for account-opening, and more within a shared space of other settlement partners and agencies.
“This is a first of its kind worldwide facility in wrap-around supports,” says Ashley. “In 2019, we also supported ISSofBC’s second Welcome Centre in Surrey, which provides second-step services like employment support.”
Additionally, in collaboration with ISSofBC, Vancity plans to help five Refugee families settle in Canada by funding the settlement costs for one full year for each family. Vancity’s first privately sponsored family landed in Canada on October 15, 2021, and has now successfully settled into their new home. The second privately sponsored family also arrived in July 2023 and settled in Maple Ridge.
Beyond the barriers to greater access and use of financial services, refugees and migrants often lack familiarity with the financial and welfare system in Canada. Their lack of confidence in language and the banking system often prevents them from understanding the terms and features of some financial products and services.
Vancity’s financial literacy workshops Each One, Teach One were created to help refugees and newcomers gain the financial literacy skills they require to manage their financial situation, learn how to budget, understand how to calculate exchange rates, and much more. The program now runs on a national level through Vancity community partners.
Locally, we have partnered with Family Services of Greater Vancouver and PICS to deliver financial literacy workshops that are culturally relevant and tailored to the unique needs of different groups.
“Although essential, financial literacy is just the first step financial institutions can take in helping newcomers thrive,” says Ashley. "The next steps are providing financial education, and opportunities for sustainable employment, and affordable housing solutions. These are the critical elements building to financial resiliency."
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