Promoting Savings in Indigenous Communities

One of its missions is to help customers develop healthy financial habits and increase their savings, a reflex that cannot be taken for granted in a culture where the collective good takes precedence over personal enrichment.

“We show creativity in coming up with solutions to encourage customers to save”, even if that means applying the strategy of small steps. “Customers are encouraged to set aside a small amount each month. We congratulate them on their arrival and encourage them to gradually increase this amount,” illustrates the director, who sees her role in the community going well beyond banking.

“I try to the best of my knowledge to make a difference in people’s lives. I want to make financial services more accessible and understandable while showing humanity and integrity. †

Previously, Luce Bacon worked as a human resources advisor for the Innu Council of Pessamit. This graduate bachelor in administration from the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi (UAQC) sees in her new career the opportunity to give back to her community what she has received.

“Our team has a unique approach,” she emphasizes. We guide people with humor and humanity. Our reward, at the end of the day, is a dose of customer happiness and joy. †

A FRAGILE TRUST

The trust of Aboriginal communities in financial institutions is fragile. In this context, one of the essential roles of Luce Bacon and her team is to weave links between these two loneliness.

This sharing is in line with the wish of BMO, which has been involved with the country’s indigenous communities since 1992. The institution manages $6.6 billion (B$) in assets for the First Nations of Canada and maintains a network of a dozen branches on as many reserves. Quebec has three, including Pessamit’s.

“We assist Aboriginal customers in the process of managing their assets so that they have access to the same products and services as non-Aboriginal (non-Aboriginal) customers,” said Mark Shadeed, Vice President, Aboriginal Banking Services. the Atlantic, one of six regional managers appointed to BMO to develop and harmonize financial services with First Nations.

Mark Shadeed gets angry when people talk about certain clichés about natives and money. “The ones we point the finger at are isolated cases,” he says. Indigenous populations face major challenges, particularly in terms of their ability to find housing. Still, the default rate on mortgages is proportionately lower on reserves than on other customers,” he says.

In addition to prejudice, members of Aboriginal communities have more difficulty saving, and “several reasons explain this reality,” said Ian Picard, assistant director of asset development and management at RBA Groupe Financier, a not-for-profit organization that provides benefits to First Nations organizations. .

“The relationship with money under the capitalist aspect is less present with us. It’s not part of our DNA. The functioning of Aboriginal communities is more focused on the circular economy and resource sharing,” said the Huron-Wendat Nation member in Wendake.

Indeed, personal enrichment is not part of the fundamental values ​​of a culture in which we generally live in the present moment. “Savings don’t come naturally there,” sums up the person who was elected to the council at the age of 21 in his community and who has a joint EMBA from McGill and HEC Montreal Universities.

THE TAX BRAKE

To the cultural obstacle has been added the brake of taxation. The connecting factors arising from Article 87 of the Indian Act“When Aboriginal income qualifies for the tax exemption under this part of the Act, which makes it possible to determine whether a salary is exempt from tax or not, will affect Aboriginal savings capacity, Ian Picard assures the Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) will become inaccessible. Their ability to save is reduced. They are left with the tax-exempt account (TFSA), Registered Retirement Plans (RPP), if available through their employer, and unregistered investments to save for their retirement.”

Since Aboriginal employers are not required to contribute to the Quebec Pension Plan (QPP) and the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), many community members cannot rely on this income. “Those who don’t have access to a custom registered retirement plan are thus deprived of about 25% to 33% of retirement income,” laments Ian Picard.

This situation affects their standard of living. Result: The median annual income in Indigenous communities in Canada was $24,539 compared to $37,549 in the general population, according to the 2016 census. The well-being index also showed a nearly 20-point gap among community members compared to the non- native people.

REVIEWING THE LACK OF PENSION PLANS

Community initiatives such as RBA Groupe Financier have sprung up to fill the gaps. Founded in 1979, this non-profit organization serves nearly 8,000 members with its pension plans and 4,000 members with group insurance policies. Assets under management total $1.2 billion for nearly 300 employers from communities such as First Nations governments, organizations and private companies that employ Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.

The organization, whose defined benefit plan is the largest for Aboriginal clients in Quebec with $1.05 billion in assets under management, was founded after a transfer of responsibility from the federal government to the communities in the 1970s. In 1979, the Attikamek implemented -Montagnais council this structure to implement all pension schemes in the form of an employer scheme. The goal was to make up for the lack of retirement plans in these communities by offering employers and their employees a competitive savings mechanism.

The clientele served by the organization extends over a vast territory of the province of Quebec, from Kawawachikamach in the Côte-Nord region to the heart of the Labrador Peninsula, including the Maritimes, excluding the Nations Cree and Inuit, who have their own diet.

LOOKING FOR SOCIAL ACCEPTABILITY

In Aboriginal communities, the counseling approach follows the industry trend. Webinars and online training, which have developed during the pandemic, are popular there to reach a wider audience. However, they are not a substitute for face-to-face meetings, which are still the preferred means of communication in the communities.

“We have to adapt, understand our customers and seek social acceptance. Our advisors are not salesmen. They have a social mission. The relationship of trust with the members is very important, otherwise we jeopardize the community’s attachment to savings and the organization that belongs to them,” says Ian Picard.

What is the daily life of a counselor in an Aboriginal environment?

“Working for an organization like ours is a unique opportunity. Due to the vast territory, we have the opportunity to travel to remote areas that few people get to discover in their lifetime. Obviously, we need to be adventurous at heart, as we sometimes take small planes and experience Mother Nature’s whims, such as strong winds or fog, making our return impossible for several days. †

“It is a job rich in experience, especially because of the cultural richness of the different communities and nations. It’s also an opportunity to talk with community members and the elderly and learn more about their way of life, their history, and even share a traditional meal that stems from the community’s usual practices. We generally communicate in French or English, but we also have the chance to hear our customers communicate in their native language. In short, the ideal job for a consultant who wants to surpass himself, who wants to think outside the box and is curious to learn more about the different cultures of our clientele,” said the man who carried out this fieldwork over several years. .

FINANCIAL EDUCATION, THE KEY

Of all the initiatives taken, financial education remains the preferred solution to help communities save more, say the stakeholders interviewed.

“We need to start raising awareness among the people in the communities earlier,” said Ian Picard. Previously, we offered retirement seminars to participants ten years or less after retirement. Today we are working with technological means on communication tools to increase the awareness of our members of different ages about retirement savings, so that they can take advantage of the exponential effect of saving,” he says.

BMO actively promotes financial literacy among its Aboriginal customers and employees. The institution has just released a series of online training courses on selected topics, such as credit planning and financial planning. Last year it produced a module on Aboriginal history and culture that was followed by 97% of employees, Mark Shadeed reports.

The Bank, which employs First Nations personnel in its branches, particularly on reserves, wants to increase the proportion of Aboriginal employees across the organization to a ratio of 5%, to match their representation in the Canadian population.

But the biggest challenge to adequately support the First Nations in managing their finances remains the scarcity of expertise, especially in financial planning, Ian Picard believes. “The expertise may be present in the financial institutions, but they use standardized processes that are not adapted to the realities of the communities. However, in order to properly serve members, advisors must have a global vision, especially in the areas of taxation and eligible social programs. †

He also notes that the lack of technological tools and analysis software adapted to the specific circumstances of Aboriginal people makes it difficult to carry out financial planning that perfectly suits their needs.

“In this context, we need to help people in our communities change their perception of retirement savings. This will result in a better quality of life for our seniors and an increase in the well-being of our communities,” said Ian Picard.

Despite the challenges, the future is hopeful for Pessamit. “We have incredible resilience and great wealth,” concludes Luce Bacon. Even though tomorrow may seem uncertain, our values ​​have always guided us. It’s time for us to let them shine and move forward. †

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