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Insights on topics affecting
Canada’s banking sector
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By Canadian Bankers Association

­Financial inclusion, which is the equal opportunity for everyone to access financial services, is a fundamental aspect of Canada's financial landscape. As technology continues to reshape the financial landscape, the banking industry is evolving to ensure that all citizens have access to critical services, including those who are more financially vulnerable.  

Canada is a global leader in financial inclusion, with more than 99 per cent of Canadians having access to an account at a financial institution. In fact, Canada’s financial system is the most inclusive among the G7 group of countries, according to recent World Bank data.i  At the same time, as Canada's population expands rapidly, the growing number of newcomers and foreign students is driving an increased demand for banking services.

The swift pace of digitalization in the financial sector has led banks to advance financial inclusion, with the aim of providing all Canadians access to essential financial services. This shift isn't solely due to technological advancements, but also influenced by demographic changes driven by population growth. Accordingly, banks are making efforts to design more inclusive and personalized services to meet the diverse needs of a growing, and increasingly digital, customer base.

As consumer preferences continue to shift online, banks are responding by increasingly integrating digital technologies into their operations. In doing so, however, they must strike a balance between efficiency, security, and maintaining inclusivity. In this article, we explore how Canadian banks are leveraging responsible innovation, financial literacy programs, and accessibility initiatives to ensure Canada continues to be a financially inclusive and competitive country in the digital era.

Digital financial inclusion: the Canadian way

Canada’s banking sector has embraced a digital-first (but not digital-only) approach to meet the diverse needs of an evolving and expanding population. In addition to a vast network of branches across the country, banks recognize the importance of ensuring that their online services are accessible, including by those who are more financially vulnerable. By responsibly adopting trustworthy digital technologies, banks are creating a more convenient and secure environment for their customers while helping them make better financial decisions.

Responsible innovation

Canada’s banks design user-friendly products that enhance the customer experience, save time and money, and protect user data. Responsible innovation can significantly contribute to financial inclusion by offering cost-affordable and sustainable services tailored to customer needs. Artificial intelligence (AI) powered tools like RBC’s NOMI, which has helped customers put aside more than $3.6 billion in savings, and Scotiabank’s C.MEE, exemplify how banks can generate growth and empower all societal groups through digital innovation. Indeed, there are other examples at several banks.

As the adoption of AI and machine learning models increases across sectors, Canadian banks have also taken proactive measures to adopt AI in a responsible and trustworthy manner. They have developed internal strategies and safeguards to identify and address potential risks posed by these advanced technologies, such as incorporating AI into risk management frameworks. These proactive measures ensure that banks continue to place their customers at the center of responsible innovation.  

Canada’s banks are championing a future where financial inclusion and responsible innovation will go hand in hand. By embracing user-friendly digital solutions, fostering financial literacy, and ensuring trustworthy adoption of technologies like AI, banks are making great strides in building a thriving financial ecosystem for all Canadians.

Accessibility

Addressing barriers that impede access to innovative financial products and services is crucial for digital financial inclusion. Banks have implemented accessibility initiatives, such as expanded language offerings for digital banking services, to help break down these barriers. Public Accountability Statements from each bank demonstrate their commitment to promoting digital financial inclusion.

However, challenges remain as not all Canadians have internet connections or have access to smartphones. For instance, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) requires banks to send electronic alerts when a customer's balance falls below a certain threshold, but customers who cannot receive electronic alerts may miss out on this service. Indeed, banks will continue to find ways to ensure that all Canadians can benefit from digital financial services without exacerbating Canada’s digital divide.

Canada’s banking sector welcomed the federal government’s development of national accessibility legislation—the Accessible Canada Act (Act)—which aims to realize a barrier-free Canada by 2040. Banks will adapt and build their systems and processes to ensure they meet regulatory requirements under the Act and the associated regulations, including the upcoming publication of their first accessibility plans in June 2023.

Already leaders in this space, banks will continually work to improve the inclusive design of their products and services, and support accessibility for everyone because they do not view accessibility as a check-the-box compliance exercise. Rather, they work to tailor their accessibility solutions to the needs of their employees and customers, making successive investments in accessibility features and accommodation technologies that are constantly evolving.

Financial and digital literacy

Full financial inclusion requires users to have access to and regularly use digital financial services. The Canadian Bankers Association (CBA) and its member banks support the FCAC’s National Financial Literacy Strategy by prioritizing digital access and literacy initiatives. Individual financial literacy programs, such as those offered by many banks in Canada, serve as a risk mitigant against potential fraud and consumer risks posed by online services.

Industry initiatives like the CBA’s Your Money programs for students and older adults, as well as the CBA’s wide range of fraud prevention resources, further contribute to a more financially inclusive Canada while improving consumer protection and confidence. These efforts further empower individuals with the knowledge and skills necessary to navigate the financial landscape and make informed decisions in their everyday lives.

Many CBA member banks have also implemented extensive financial literacy and fraud prevention programs that help mitigate against risks confronted by consumers in the digital era, including newcomers to Canada. Furthermore, these banks offer tailored programs aimed at assisting Canadians in navigating digital banking platforms, ensuring increased accessibility and user-friendly experiences for individuals from various backgrounds and skill levels.

The role of government and collaboration in supporting digital financial inclusion

While Canadian banks play a central role in promoting digital financial inclusion, they also recognize the importance of government initiatives aimed at creating an inclusive innovation economy such as the Universal Broadband Fund. Governments at all levels can support these efforts by investing in critical enablers like broadband infrastructure.

Bridging Canada’s digital divide will further support financial inclusion. Such collaborations ensure that Canadians, particularly those in rural and remote areas, have the digital resources and tools needed to participate fully in today's increasingly digital financial marketplace.

The way forward

Canadian banks are leading the way in using digital innovation to bolster client responsiveness, demonstrating their commitment to responsible innovation, financial literacy, and accessibility initiatives. As the digital transformation of the financial sector continues to accelerate, it is important that banks and governments work together to ensure that all Canadians can benefit from these advancements.


 

­ i World Bank, The Global Findex Database 2021, https://www.worldbank.org/en/publication/globalfindex/Data#sec1