Symposium fosters a conversation about fair banking for all Canadians

Fair banking for all Canadians is a vision of the Black Creek Financial Action Network (BCFAN), a multi-partner network, coordinating efforts among the many agencies providing financial information in Black Creek and beyond.

On Oct. 12, under the auspices of the York University-TD Community Engagement Centre (CEC), BCFAN presented a Fair Banking symposium. The event brought together participants from community agencies and organizations, banks, credit unions and thought leaders from York University to present and discuss ideas about how to make banking more accessible for all Canadians. Previous successes and remaining challenges were the focal points of an active conversation.

Participants at the Fair Banking event sponsored by the Black Creek Financial Action Network

“The BCFAN is the best of a community-University collaboration with a mandate to research financial programs and services, build the capacity of service providers, and advocate for the community on financial matters,” said Assistant Business Librarian, Angie An, BCFAN co-chair and co-host of the event with Elena Jara of Credit Canada Debt Solutions.

Angie An

Presenters were invited to the symposium to frame the issues around financial rights and responsibilities, the barriers to basic banking, and highlight the success of grass-roots community activism and partnerships. Participants identified some of the critical barriers remaining and brainstormed solutions.

“The Fair Banking event generated a wealth of ideas about how to increase access to basic banking services for financially excluded Canadians,” said York Professor of Economics and Public Policy Brenda Spotton Visano, who is also a member of BCFAN. “And it stimulated further opportunities for public scholarship and ideas for servicing the civic, social, economic and educational needs of our neighbours in Black Creek.”

Jane Rooney

Jane Rooney, who was appointed in 2014 to be Canada’s Financial Literacy Leader with the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC), opened the event speaking to the importance of knowing an individual’s rights and responsibilities as financial consumers. She highlighted the excellent work done by a variety of stakeholder groups collaborating to strengthen the financial well-being of Canadians.

Barry Reider, a community minister with the United Church of Canada and member of BCFAN, presented the story of how the lived experience of those in Jane and Finch changed bank legislation more than a decade ago. Spearheaded by Ruth Morris, an activist in the Jane Finch community, together with the support of the Mennonite Central Committee and the managers of the neighbourhood branches of the six major banks, this group lobbied successfully for legislation that now makes it illegal to refuse to open a bank account for someone solely based on their income.

Also presenting was Maureen Fair, executive director, West Neighbourhood House. Fair outlined the partnership between community agencies and RBC in the design and implementation of the Cash & Save outlet in the low-income neighborhood of Parkdale and Regent Park. Fair speculated on the reasons for why it had since closed and expressed hope that such outlets might again be resurrected.

Maize Blanchard a civil rights and social activist together with Judy Duncan, head organizer of ACORN Canada, gave a joint presentation about the importance of grass-roots activism in getting policy makers to understand the financial challenges of low-income Canadians. Duncan presented ACORN’s platform of policy changes needed to ensure fair banking for all.

Byron Gray

Byron Gray, manager of the CEC, emceed the event and facilitated the brainstorming session that produced even more ideas and stories about enhancing access of all Canadians to fair, affordable and safe basic banking services.

“The opportunity to exchange ideas among people with such a broad range of experience was informative,” said Rosa Berdejo-Williams, symposium participant and program coordinator of York University’s Transition Year Program.

“As part of the CEC’s mandate to strengthen York University’s anchoring relationship with the Black Creek community and beyond, this event was a considerable success,” observed Lorna Schwartzentruber, associate director, Access Programs and Community Engagement at York University.

As part of the symposium, the new book Payday Lending in Canada in a Global Context: A Mature Industry with Chronic Challenges, co-edited by York University Administrative Studies Professor Chris Robinson, with Spotton Visano and Jerry Buckland, professor of International Development Studies at Menno Simons College, was launched. In her remarks about the book, Spotton Visano stated that both the FCAC and the ACORN national surveys confirm that the users of high-cost payday loans are often those who are excluded from the banks. Banning payday lending is their preferred recommendation but only after everyone is ensured full access to fair banking. (For more information on the book, read the YFile story.)

Robinson, the book’s co-editor and financial sponsor of the event, said the editors’ challenge to the banks was “let’s make sure banking is this comfortable for everyone.”