(Above) From left, Joseph Mari, Larissa Maxwell and Stuart Davis represent The Salvation Army and Scotiabank at the launch of the blueprint of the Financial Sector Commission on Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking at the United Nations in New York

For most people, opening a bank account is as simple as going online or making an appointment at the nearest branch. But for a person without government identification or a permanent address, doing so may be impossible.

That’s the situation many survivors face when they escape human trafficking. With a new financial access project, The Salvation Army hopes to change that.

“There are some key barriers that make it difficult for survivors to re-engage in financial services, which puts them at risk for being trafficked again,” says Larissa Maxwell, director of anti-human trafficking programs for the British Columbia Division. “So when we look at ending modern slavery in Canada, the financial industry has a huge role to play.”  

Supporting Survivors
Worldwide, more than 40 million men, women and children were trapped in modern slavery in 2016. 

Though some may think of it as an “over there” problem, Canada is not immune. According to Maxwell, the Army serves up to 700 survivors every year. “We’re the largest service provider in Canada, in terms of supporting survivors of human trafficking,” she notes.

The Salvation Army offers both live-in and outreach-based programs supporting survivors to heal and take steps toward an extraordinary life after the experience of trafficking. The Army also provides education and training for key agencies such as law enforcement.

The financial access project (FAP) is an initiative of the United Nations’ Financial Sector Commission on Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking. The Salvation Army was approached to take part in the project because of its cross-country reach and expertise in the field. “The models that are used in our programs are considered some of the best practice in North America,” notes Maxwell.

To develop the FAP for the Canadian context, the Army partnered with Scotiabank—an enthusiastic partner. “Scotiabank certainly doesn’t shy away from opportunities to use its platform and its services to address human rights issues,” says Gilberto Cedolia, office of financial crimes risk management, Scotiabank. “This project is a great way to do that and to deliver on the commitments the bank set out in its human rights statement.”  

Maxwell, smiling, shows a document to an Army staff memberMaxwell meets with a staff member at the Army's Deborah's Gate facility

Taking Back Control

After signing on to take part in the pilot project, Maxwell began by putting together a consultation group of more than 20 survivors. “We asked them questions like, ‘What would it look like for you to be included in financial services? What are the barriers? And what are your hopes and dreams?’ ” Maxwell explains.

Those consultations were revealing. “For example, they were embarrassed because they had debt or were on income assistance,” says Maxwell. “One survivor shared that she’d never learned how to use an ATM, so she was given a card but didn’t know how to withdraw money.”

On the positive side, Maxwell was moved by the hopes and dreams they shared. “One survivor said that her biggest goal was to save for her children’s education—children she had lost custody of because she was trafficked,” Maxwell notes.

“Many survivors shared that they want to feel pride in their financial abilities— they want to budget, to save up for a car or a home, to not be dependent on credit cards,” she continues. “Survivors’ financial goals are similar to other people’s goals, except many of them face quite a few barriers to reach them.”

That list of barriers can be long: when they escape their traffickers, survivors usually do not have proper ID or a permanent address to give a bank. They often have debts—typically racked up by their trafficker—and may have a criminal record.

But the biggest barrier is often a lack of financial literacy. “Most survivors have had limited access to financial services, and that means their skill level is low,” Maxwell explains. “So there needs to be education and training before they can re-engage and take back control. When you have been exploited and treated as a commodity, it’s important to realign your relationship with money, where you have control over it, rather than it having control over you.”  

Best Practices
Once barriers were identified, the Army worked with Scotiabank to begin eliminating some of them. For example, the bank was able to develop different methods that would allow survivors with ID constraints to open accounts.

“We also provided financial literacy as part of the onboarding experience,” notes Cedolia. “Along with a guide to the new accounts that we were opening, Scotiabank offered an overview of the fundamentals of banking—budgeting, savings, protection from fraud. Every survivor has a different background, so the onboarding was tailored to each individual.”

Working together, the Army and Scotiabank also developed a traumasensitive guide for bank employees. With this guide, Scotiabank employees learned best practices for meeting with and accommodating survivors, ensuring specialized, private and ongoing support was offered to navigate these new systems and services. 

In September, Maxwell and Stuart Davis, global head financial crimes risk management and group chief antimoney laundering officer, were invited to present on the pilot project to the UN in New York City, highlighting the unique benefits of the partnership between the Army and Scotiabank and how the project was already helping survivors. The model developed through the partnership is being used as an example around the world, and the UN has issued a challenge to other countries to join in the financial inclusion initiative. While there, Maxwell also gave a presentation on eradicating modern-day slavery at an event sponsored by Barclay’s with key industry leaders in the North American financial industry.

“The feedback we received was that the way we approached the project was not only excellent, but also incredibly inspirational,” says Maxwell. “We received a flood of requests to consult with American financial institutions to help them develop similar projects.”  

Shining Light
During the pilot phase, four survivors participated in the FAP. “The survivors who went through the pilot told me it was the best experience they’d had with any institution—not just financial,” Maxwell shares. “It shows that when you customize processes properly—when you understand trauma and how to accommodate it—it can make a significant difference.”

“This program is a shining light down a long dark tunnel for me,” says one survivor. “With the help of an advisor, I feel like the future is not so very dark for my children and me, that I can take back control of money and, with time, become financially stable without ever having to go back to the life I left behind. I can’t wait for what the future has in store for me and my children.”
“We’re the largest service provider in Canada, in terms of supporting survivors of human trafficking.”

Scotiabank is now moving to make the FAP a permanent initiative, rolling out this spring. “We’re confident that we have the foundation to turn the pilot into a sustainable program,” says Cedolia, “and we look forward to working with the Army to help us establish that.”

Going forward, Maxwell’s goal is to make the program available to every survivor the Army supports, to set up a national referral system, and to bring all financial institutions across Canada on board. “For survivors to be able to stand on their own two feet financially—that is one of the strongest safeguards against trafficking, abuse and exploitation,” she concludes. “So let’s do this with excellence, giving them the very best we can.”

Survivor input shared with permission utilizing ethical storytelling principles.


On Wednesday, July 6, 2022, Jessica said:

how do we get training and make more partnerships survivors are finding it difficult fixing their credit with current agencies like not secure websites with credit and highly confidential information about survivors not 100% secure leaving them not trust worthy

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