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

Seniors in the Interior Health region can book their COVID-19 vaccinations starting Monday, March 8, 2021 at 7 a.m. (File photo)
Seniors in Interior Heath region can book COVID-19 shots starting Monday

Starting March 8 the vaccination call centre will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily

.
Eight weeks with no new COVID-19 cases in Castlegar

The latest localized BCDCD COVID-19 numbers

Coby Reid helped rescue this bobcat from where it had frozen to the train tracks. Photo: Coby Reid
Bobcat deliverer shares details from Kootenay train track rescue

Coby Reid helped rescue a bobcat that was frozen to train tracks near Waneta bridge

Eli Morton planting native species. Photo: Laurie Frankcom CKISS
Robson Scouts celebrate accomplishments

The Castlegar area Scout group had a busy year in spite of COVID-19

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

Victoria man Brett Andersen is asking for people’s help to secure him one of eight free tickets to the moon. (Screenshot/@brettandersen Instagram)
Victoria man wants your help securing a free ticket to the moon

Japanese billionaire offering eight people a trip to the moon

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Donald Alan Sweet was once an all star CFL kicker who played for the Montreal Alouettes and Montreal Concordes over a 13-year career. Photo courtesy of Mission RCMP.
Ex-B.C. teacher who was CFL kicker charged with assault, sexual crimes against former students

Donald Sweet taught in Mission School District for 10 years, investigators seek further witnesses

During a press event on March 6, Const. Alex Berube, media relations officer for the West Shore RCMP, addressed a deadly shooting that occurred in Metchosin the night before. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
VIDEO: One man shot dead on Vancouver Island in ‘targeted incident’

Highway 14 reopens following multi-hour closure for investigation

Personal protective equipment is seen in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
$16.9 million invested to improve worker safety, strengthen B.C.’s food supply chain

Money to be used for social distancing, personal protective equipment, cleaning, and air circulation

Most Read