Westpac NZ updates processes to help young people in care open bank accounts

Westpac NZ has updated its processes to make it easier for young people in care to open bank accounts, following a successful pilot with Oranga Tamariki and VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai, the independent advocacy service for children and young people with care experience.

Louisa Brock, Westpac NZ Manager Customer Vulnerability and Financial Inclusion, says young people in care can face a range of difficulties in accessing banking services, including the fact that consent from a parent or guardian is typically required to open a bank account, which can be difficult for children in care to obtain.

In addition, Anti Money Laundering laws mean banks need to verify a customer’s identity and residential address – documentation that can be challenging for a young person in care.

“We’ve been working closely with Oranga Tamariki and VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai for some time,” Ms Brock says. “Input from a wide range of people has been required to support both Oranga Tamariki and the banking industry to remove the barriers to opening accounts for young people in care – it really has been a together greater approach.”

Westpac’s new process means young people aged 15-17 who are in the care of Oranga Tamariki are now able to open a bank account without needing consent from a parent or guardian.

To overcome the identity and address verification challenges, the new process allows young people to use standard ID or a birth certificate as primary identification, with a letter from Oranga Tamariki able to be accepted as a secondary form of ID/proof of address.

“We’re committed to improving outcomes for our young people and I’m really pleased we’ve now got to this point,” Ms Brock says.

“We first met with Oranga Tamariki about this issue in 2018 so it’s been quite a journey. We’re grateful for the support of numerous stakeholders along the way, including The Tindall Foundation and Toitū Tahua – Centre for Sustainable Finance, and it’s been invaluable to have direct input from care experienced people through VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai. We hope these processes can now become standard across the industry.”

Kiri Milne, Oranga Tamariki General Manager, Voices of Children and Young People, says Oranga Tamariki is currently talking to other banks about updating their processes.

“We want young people in care to have a choice of bank, like their peers, so we’re now working with other banks to ensure their processes are also accessible for care experienced young people.”

The National Care Standards regulation requires the payment of pocket money to children in care at a level appropriate to their age and circumstances. Currently this money is typically provided to caregivers to pass on – if young people have a bank account, it becomes much easier for them to access their entitled funds.

Tupua Urlich, National Care Experienced Lead, VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai, has direct experience of how access to finances can make a difference for a child in care.

“I began working on this initiative with Westpac and Oranga Tamariki because I understand how important it is to be able to access your pocket money in care,” Mr Urlich says.

“For years I depended on it to maintain communication with my sister who lived in a different part of the country. While I didn’t have a bank account at that stage, I was lucky to have a carer who would give me my pocket money so I could buy a prepaid envelope to write to my sister.

“Having a bank account and knowing how to use it, and how money works are such important things to have… you just must have a bank account and financial literacy to have a fair chance in life.”

Kiri Milne agrees that ensuring young people in care can access a bank account is important to set them up for the future.

“Without a bank account, young people can’t get paid, they can’t receive an allowance or benefit, they have less opportunity to learn about managing their money and they can’t pay for things with a bank card like most teenagers do,” Ms Milne says.

Feedback from Oranga Tamariki social workers, as well as from young people who have been able to open bank accounts through the new process, has been positive.

Ms Brock says this change in process to support young people in care is the latest initiative in Westpac’s ongoing Extra Care programme of work.

“Westpac has recently introduced a gambling block to help Kiwis struggling with online gambling; launched the use of an interpreting service to support customers who don’t speak English; and updated our bankruptcy policy to improve access to basic banking services for Kiwis going through tough times.”

Westpac NZ also continues to work with the Department of Corrections to make it possible for prisoners nearing their release date to open bank accounts.

“We are continuing to work hard to improve access to banking in Aotearoa,” Ms Brock says.

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