Imagine a moment in life where circumstances have been such that you’re left emotionally, physically or mentally vulnerable. You might be living in poverty. Maybe you don’t have a safe place to sleep. Maybe ‘home’ is an elusive concept instead of a place to go. You might be struggling with mental health challenges or addiction. All of these points of vulnerability could result in a situation where it’s difficult to obtain - let alone hang onto - proper identification. And without identification, a safe place to keep the money that you do have isn’t possible. For many in our community, this is their reality and a bank account - an opportunity to keep their money safe and grow their wealth - becomes a figment of the imagination.
We believe that access to banking is a basic right. With that guiding philosophy, enter Four Directions Financial, one way we’re helping those in the Edmonton community that are vulnerable access banking, know that their money is safe, and maintain their pride and dignity. Part of ATB’s agency network, Four Directions Financial is located next to Boyle Street Community Services, which has been serving inner-city Edmonton since 1971. We partnered in 2016, combining our financial and technological know-how with Boyle Street’s expertise in supporting those in poverty, to provide vulnerable people access to mainstream financial services, often for the first time ever.
When you walk inside the Boyle Street Community Services building, it looks like any other bank. But instead of requiring traditional ID, which is often lost or stolen, clients of this location can quickly and easily verify their identity through biometrics. As the first financial institution in Alberta to use biometric identification technology and the first in Canada to apply this technology to the underbanked, we use a simple, yet powerful black box to scan clients’ fingerprints and irises. Sixty-five per cent of Four Directions Financial’s clients are registered to access their accounts through biometric identification. Others take advantage of Boyle Street’s ID program (they use Boyle Street’s address as their home address and then Boyle Street keeps the ID safe for them onsite).
In addition to biometric technology, other unique features of Four Directions Financial include daily restrictions on withdrawals that are set by the customer, direct deposit of government cheques, and making the agency open to everyone–not just clients at Boyle Street.
With less time spent verifying IDs, more time is left for conversation. Marg, the Manager at Four Directions, knows many of her 520 customers by name. She spends time talking to clients about their lives and provides customized financial advice. Four Directions Financial merges relationship-based banking with cutting-edge technology. This affords hundreds of vulnerable people a safe place to store their money and take control of their finances. One-third of people who use Four Directions now have money left in their account at the end of the month.
Our work with biometrics extends beyond Four Directions - we’ve already rolled out touch ID on all our apps and that’s just the beginning. Upcoming advances include passive biometric solutions. We’re currently conducting a proof of concept at the ATB Campus with facial recognition as a potential replacement for employee access cards, with a view to expanding to our customers.
As technology evolves, so too must our approach and application of it. After all, what good is transformation when it doesn’t make life better for those of us that need it the most?
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