Date posted: 21/07/2022 5 min read

Why banking must be more inclusive

It’s central to modern life, says Catherine McGrath, Westpac NZ chief executive. That’s why banking must strive for inclusivity. Brought to you by Westpac.

If you’re anything like me, you would struggle to remember a time when you didn’t have a bank account, and you would be completely lost if asked to go a month without one.

However, that’s the case for some people in New Zealand. They grew up without a bank account in their name and are also often missing ID documents that would help them apply for one.

One such group of people is prisoners. A key goal of correctional services is to not just punish, but to rehabilitate and reintegrate – to make sure that people returning to society are ready to contribute.

That’s why Westpac has been working with the Department of Corrections to get prisoners an ID, bank account and debit card before their release. Because if we can’t imagine ourselves forging a life without a bank account, then how can we expect someone else to, especially when they're striving to find their feet?

A bank account provides a way to get a job and pay the rent, and an equal footing with peers, which maximises the chance of successfully reintegrating. We call the programme New Start.

Why banking must be more inclusivePictured: The New Start team from Westpac and Corrections visit Tongariro Prison

Helping those most in need

Although banks have been supporting customers in Aotearoa for almost 200 years, we’ve mainly focused on more standard segments like homeowners and fledgling business owners. Those on the margins haven’t been deliberately excluded, but they’ve often been overlooked.

It’s clear banking needs to do better by being much more inclusive, and banking is not the only industry this applies to. Our society faces a range of big picture challenges – from an ageing population to entrenched family violence to widening inequality.

At the same time, the financial sector is facing increased regulation. To take one example, anti-money laundering legislation quite rightly aims to stop criminals disguising their activity via their bank, lawyer or accountant, but also means more scrutiny of bank account applicants, which can put people off.

Such trends mean increasing numbers of people are at risk of being left out. Those who are homeless or have been in foster care are other examples of groups with often unmet banking needs. However, it’s not just those from atypical backgrounds who can fall through the cracks.

Imagine being in an abusive relationship, without your own bank account or card and having to leave urgently without many of your possessions or identity documents, or think about the effect a dementia diagnosis could have on the way you or your loved one manages money.

At Westpac, we have a specialist ‘Extra Care’ team that is charged with understanding how we can better help these groups. We have a long road ahead of us, but we’re working hard to be more inclusive.

We’re also working with others in the banking system to embed this approach more widely and would encourage all professionals to think about how they can have a positive impact by making their services more inclusive.

CA ANZ and Westpac: Aligning on inclusion

CA ANZ has committed to helping the accounting profession, banking and finance professions become more diverse, equitable and inclusive through research, advocacy, and the launch of a new strategy to equip Chartered Accountants to reflect and respond to the diverse nature of the clients and communities they serve.

Find out more:

To find out more about how Westpac is helping banking be more inclusive and see its 2025 sustainability strategy, visit our website.