Nadine Spencer, the president of Black Business and Professional Association, poses for a photograph in Toronto on Friday, January 29, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin

Nadine Spencer, the president of Black Business and Professional Association, poses for a photograph in Toronto on Friday, January 29, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin

Ottawa should require banks to share race-related data: business groups

Black Business and Professional Association says banks should disclose data to ensure equitable access to credit and loans

Canadian banks should have to disclose data related to race, gender, income and neighbourhoods to ensure more equitable access to credit and loans, say organizations representing racialized and Indigenous business owners who want Ottawa to step in.

Nadine Spencer, president of Black Business and Professional Association, says Black business owners grapple with microaggressions, unconscious bias and discrimination in banking, and both tracking and releasing this data would help hold banks accountable.

“In order for us to move along, we have to look at the data, look at the gaps and address the issues,” she said.

Banks in the United States have had to keep track of applicants for business loans by race, gender, income and neighbourhood for more than 40 years through their obligations under the Community Reinvestment Act. Designed as a way to encourage banks to better serve lower-income neighbourhoods and racialized communities, it involves the U.S. Federal Reserve and other banking regulators evaluating their performance on this front, with ratings published in an online database.

Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch, said the federal government should require something similar of banks in Canada as a way to fight systemic racism.

“Four of our six big Canadian banks own U.S. banks and have, for decades, followed the U.S. law in the U.S. but they have not done anything up here to track and disclose discrimination,” said Conacher.

He was referring to Bank of Montreal, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce the Royal Bank, and Toronto-Dominion Bank, which all own U.S.-based operations.

Herbert Schuetze, an economics professor at the University of Victoria, said disclosing such data would encourage more researchers to look at whether businesses owned by racialized people are getting the same access to credit and other services. He said U.S. studies have shown a discrepancy, but that research cannot easily be done in Canada.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see that (here) but it’s something that, without data, we can’t identify how big of an issue it is in Canada,” he said.

The government announced up to $221 million for Black entrepreneurs in partnership with several Canadian financial institutions in September, but Conacher said this program is not enough to address the gap in funding for Black-owned businesses.

A spokeswoman for Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said the Liberal government is open to adopting other measures, although did not commit to this one.

“The federal government is currently undertaking pre-budget consultations. We invite all Canadians to share their ideas and priorities,” said press secretary Katherine Cuplinskas.

“We absolutely know there is much more work to be done.”

RBC spokesman André Roberts said the bank does not collect information on race or gender when clients access services, noting the bank is participating in the Black entrepreneurship program.

Bank of Montreal spokesperson Jeff Roma did not say whether BMO would support the disclosure of data but said it is also participating in the federal Black entrepreneurship program. TD Bank and did not say whether it would back sharing data and CIBC did not respond to a request for comment.

“The banks are already collecting this data on all their borrowers, and can easily add one box on the form saying: do you want to identify as a visible minority?” Conacher said.

Vivian Kaye, who owns an online business selling hair extensions to Black women, said she has faced discrimination from her bank since she started eight years ago.

She said her bank’s agents repeatedly questioned money transfers she made and never offered her a line of credit, even though they could see her business had been growing.

Caroline Shenaz Hossein, a professor of business and society at York University, said disaggregating the data would show who gets access to banking services in Canada — and who does not.

She said many Black people, including herself, have turned to online banking, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, to avoid dealing with racism at bank branches.

“I hated the humiliation of going in to a bank, and them watching me up and down like I am some sort of like terrorist’s drug mule, because I’m of Black-Caribbean descent,” she said.

“We already know about systemic racism and it does exist. We do not need data to tell us that part. We want to know who actually gets the loans.”

She said also said minority communities often create alternative sources of funding.

“Chinatown and (Gerrard India Bazaar, in Toronto) have all been built on these informal collectives or co-operative groups that are really rooted in mutual aid,” she said.

Shannin Metatawabin, the CEO of the National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association, which provides alternative funding for Indigenous businesses, said publishing data from the banks would allow organizations like his to create new products or advocate for better services.

“Historically, Black, Indigenous, people of colour have always been an afterthought,” he said. “The response to the needs of our community has always been after the mainstream population.”

He said policy-makers should change that, noting that banks are federally regulated.

“It’s integral for them to get involved to make sure that everybody receives equitable service,” he said.

Jason Rasevych, president of the Anishnawbe Business Professional Association, which supports Indigenous businesses in northern Ontario, said accessing race-based data would guarantee transparency and could prompt banks to make changes.

“It also puts the financial institutions in a position to explore a potential refresh (of their policies) and strategies related to Indigenous relations, or Black or people of colour relations.”

Schuetze, the University of Victoria professor, said creating a ratings system for financial institutions to encourage them to provide loans to minority-owned businesses, like the one in the U.S., would have a positive impact.

He said other policies could also help, including tackling discrimination in the labour market, reducing barriers to operating businesses and getting experience and providing startup grants for minority-owned businesses.

“If you can reduce those barriers then, obviously, access to capital from financial institutions will increase,” Schuetze said.

Spencer said governments and financial institutions should talk to business owners and ask them what they need.

“The No. 1 thing that the financial institutions can do is to look at each customer and client as a contributor to their revenue base and respect them in a way that they should,” she said.

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools is preparing a rapid response team proposal for submission to the B.C. Ministry of Education. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district chosen to field COVID-19 rapid response team

Team to consist of SD68 and Island Health staff, according to B.C. Ministry of Education

A 50-year-old man was stabbed in an altercation that started with a disagreement about physical distancing. (File photo)
Argument about physical distancing leads to stabbing in Nanaimo

Suspect arrested on Gabriola Island an hour after incident Wednesday, Feb. 24

The Gabriola Environmentally Responsible Trans-Island Express fleet will be able to move to a new depot facility after receiving more than $187,000 of community economic recovery infrastructure program money from the Province of B.C. (Submitted photo)
Gabriola bus system receives $188,000 from province for depot building

Old fire hall to be retrofitted and serve as new bus terminal thanks to COVID-19 recovery funding

Nanaimo-raised singer Allison Crowe with director Zack Snyder on the set of ‘Man of Steel’ in 2011. Crowe performs a cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah in the upcoming director’s cut of ‘Justice League.’ (Photo courtesy Clay Enos)
Nanaimo-raised singer records song for upcoming ‘Justice League’ film

Allison Crowe’s rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah closes out the movie

Submissions are open for Vancouver Island Regional Library’s new online arts and literature magazine, ‘Sea and Cedar.’ (Bulletin file photo)
Submissions sought for library’s new digital arts and literature publication

‘Sea and Cedar’ magazine an initiative of Nanaimo Harbourfront Library

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
B.C. reports 10 additional deaths, 395 new COVID-19 cases

The majority of new coronavirus infections were in the Fraser Health region

A new survey has found that virtual visits are British Columbian’s preferred way to see the doctor amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Unsplash)
Majority of British Columbians now prefer routine virtual doctor’s visits: study

More than 82% feel virtual health options reduce wait times, 64% think they lead to better health

Captain and Maria, a pair of big and affectionate akbash dogs, must be adopted together because they are so closely bonded. (SPCA image)
Shuswap SPCA seeks forever home for inseparable Akbash dogs

A fundraiser to help medical expenses for Captain and Maria earned over 10 times its goal

The missing camper heard a GSAR helicopter, and ran from his tree well waving his arms. File photo
Man trapped on Manning mountain did nearly everything right to survive: SAR

The winter experienced camper was overwhelmed by snow conditions

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen, all 20, drown in the Sooke River in February 2020. (Contributed photos)
Coroner confirms ‘puddle jumping’ in 2020 drowning deaths of 3 B.C. men

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen pulled into raging river driving through nearby flooding

Castlegar doctor Megan Taylor contracted COVID-19 in November. This photo was taken before the pandemic. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay doctor shares experience contracting COVID-19

Castlegar doctor shares her COVID experience

Ashley Paxman, 29, is in the ICU after being struck by a vehicle along Highway 97 Feb. 18, 2021. She remains in critical condition. (GoFundMe)
Okanagan woman in ICU with broken bones in face after being struck by car

She remains in serious condition following Feb. 18 incident

Vancouver International Women in Film Festival kicks off March 5.
Women in Film Festival features two B.C. filmmakers

The 16th annual festival kicks off March 5, 2021

The booklet roots present day activism in the history of racist policies, arguing the history must be acknowledged in order to change. (CCPA)
New resource dives into 150 years of racist policy in B.C.

Racist history must be acknowledged in order to change, authors say

Most Read