Boyle Street Community Services is taking the month of October as a Month of Thanks. We’ll be highlighting partners whose advocacy and support have been instrumental to our success this year.
Have you heard about Four Directions Financial, the ATB agency next to our Community Centre? It’s more than just a bank - it is an innovative approach to banking that ensures that vulnerable Edmontonians can open a bank account with a mainstream financial institution, often for the first time. This week we’re not only celebrating our long and rewarding partnership with ATB Financial, but also the 5th anniversary of Four Direction Financial.
A lot of thought and intention went into opening the Four Directions financial institution. We’ve partnered for a long time with ATB to provide ID services to our community members, and during one of the ID Services meetings with then-Executive Director Julian Daly the question was asked: “What is your vision, where do you see this going?” Julian responded:
“I want to open a bank for our community members.”
This idea stemmed from a very real need that our community members face. “Many of our community members face high barriers to accessing a bank account,” said Marg Archibald, Agency Manager at Four Directions. “Anyone that was receiving benefits from Alberta Works or AISH on a monthly basis, if they could not get a bank account, they were forced to go to money lenders and cash their cheques.” Without access to a mainstream bank because of their lack of ID, community members would be charged high fees to use these cash services. They would also have to carry all their money with them, which made them vulnerable to theft and violence.
ATB and Boyle Street spent over a year consulting with the community and the non-profit inner-city agencies to get a handle on how widespread this need was. When the fact that this was a gap that needed to be filled came to light, Marg was seconded from her job at the time working in Boyle Street’s ID Services and was trained extensively at the ATB branch in Oliver Village (now Unity Sqaure) over a period of six months. Opening in 2016, ATB and Boyle Street are celebrating the fifth anniversary of Four Directions this week.
“ATB has always been about community. We’re considered a niche market, and ATB has a lot of these agencies that are very specifically focused on different communities, and the needs of those specific communities,” Marg said. “It’s a great fit!”
Walking the talk, ATB has a long history of working with communities to meet their needs as well as understanding the history and culture of their niche markets. Right now, there’s a serious movement towards circle facilitation, a vital aspect of Restorative Justice and Indigenous practices, and Marg is part of an Indigenous Champions group that’s currently going through the Indigenous Canada course offered by the U of A and Coursera. “That’s a significant part of understanding the history of colonization and so on” Marg said, a vital part of the movement towards reconciliation.
Marg also emphasized that Four Directions Financial was more than a bank – it was very much an extended family. As a social enterprise, Four Directions is freer to build a “relationship first” model of operation. “We’ve seen people when they’re doing really well and healthy,” Marg stated, “And we’ve seen people struggling with addiction. We see the up and downs, we see the reality, the whole person.” Taking a holistic approach to their clients, Marg says Four Directions can offer wrap around services, meaning services that address other concerns and issues community members might face that aren’t just banking related.
“It’s not just about how much people want to take out of their accounts, it’s about asking ‘are you housed right now, have you been connected to our housing department?’ or ‘if you don’t have your funding yet here’s how you can do that,’ and so on,” Marg said. “We also celebrate a lot with our community. If someone comes to the counter and says, ‘listen I’m 30 days sober,’ that’s a significant time for us to celebrate with them - and we take the time to do that and just get people through a line.”
ATB is 110 percent behind the form and function of Four Directions Financial. “They’re one of the biggest reasons why I’m still working here. I don’t think I could have learned to be a banker and stayed without the support from ATB.”
As for the future? We’re envisioning many more anniversaries to come.
“My vision is that more people within the wider community understand the reason of why we exist and the community we serve, and how they can support us.”
Wondering how to support Four Directions? It’s as simple as opening a bank account! Even if it’s just a miscellaneous account, Four Directions will get the commission and be able to support their other clients who might be on the margins of society or being experiencing those barriers to having a bank account. Get more information here: https://www.boylestreet.org/social-enterprise