Through shutdowns, government interventions, ongoing rollout of vaccinations and unclear timing of a return to familiar financial rhythms, people are finding themselves facing difficult decisions and uncertainty about their financial future.
Canadian banks have been left working to both meet the uptick in demand for digital banking, while also finding ways to meet the surge in demand for more general information and advice.
Take heart. Even well-laid financial plans have, in many cases, come off track. And when it comes to re-establishing your company plans or re-establishing your retirement plans, the next step is not always going to be clear.
In January, a survey conducted for Scotiabank asked how people felt about their investments right now, their small businesses and personal finances.
“We got some interesting results; 80 per cent of Canadians in Atlantic Canada admit that it’s hard to know what to do when it comes to their investments. And 91 per cent of Atlantic Canadians are really worried about their retirement. And that’s higher than the national averages of 70 per cent and 72 per cent respectively,” said Scotiabank’s leader in the Atlantic region, David Noel.
Around here, we’re particularly unsure of our footing.
“I think what we are seeing, whether it’s a small business or an individual, is concern around the uncertainty that COVID-19 has created and they really need advice at this point in time,” he said.
Noel is just returning to Atlantic Canada after his appointment earlier this month as Scotiabank’s regional senior vice-president for the Atlantic region. He has been with the company since 2001 and his last post was as senior vice-president responsible for the area known as Caribbean Central and North. But back in 2010, he was working as a district vice-president for the company in Atlantic Canada, working with branches and retail banking in part of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. He said he’s excited to return. He sees the customer uncertainty as an obvious focal point, second only to the health and safety considerations.
He told Atlantic Business Magazine Scotiabank has seen a roughly 20 per cent year-over-year increase in digital transactions and there’s clear evidence of people using online tools to interact with the bank. He said CEO Brian Porter’s decision several years ago to begin annual, multi-billion-dollar spending on digital services has served the company well.
As reported by Bloomberg in April 2020, some $15 billion in technology spending over the previous five years is paying off for the company, in allowing 60 per cent of the bank’s roughly 100,000 employees to work from home, in addition to customer platforms. Scotiabank did keep branches open, but offered additional paid leave and special payments to employees along the way. Noel said his current day-to-day involves responding to the changing requirements on the ground in each province.
Apart from adding to online capabilities, to offer advice (independent financial advisors are also an option of course), Noel said new efforts to engage with the broader community are essential in Atlantic Canada right now.
“Economic resilience is more important now than probably it’s ever been because marginalized communities have been impacted more by COVID-19 than the general community,” he said.
In Atlantic Canada, where demographics were already a consideration, reducing socioeconomic barriers, having more women, BIPOC community members, new immigrants to Canada, persons with disabilities able to access the workforce, access capital for new and established businesses, and generally thrive is no small consideration.
“Economic resilience is more important now than probably it’s ever been because marginalized communities have been impacted more by COVID-19 than the general community,” Noel said.
It was the thinking behind the bank’s Jan. 12 announcement of ScotiaRISE – a $500-million investment initiative over the next decade. The money will be distributed into programs led by community organizations across the country supporting individuals in marginalized groups, according to the company with particular focus on education, helping newcomers and removing barriers to career advancement.
Noel said it comes down to empowering people. “If you do that, you drive future workers for larger businesses, you drive new consumers who are participating more fully in the economy, you drive future entrepreneurs who are starting their own businesses and that helps drive the larger economy.”
All of the major banks are working on the digital demand and similarly examining drivers of post-COVID recovery. The banks do offer advice pages with articles online on a wide variety of subject matter. If you’re struggling, independent financial advisors are available to help, in addition to advisors with your bank of choice. But whether you’re facing closure, financially strained or simply interested in talking through the years ahead, or even preparing for the post-COVID economy, help is out there.
Find help online – Advice from Canadian banks: