Helping vulnerable people to open bank accounts

15 July 2020

For homeless people desperate to find accommodation or food, opening a bank account may be a long way down their list of priorities. Yet accessing financial services can give them a lifeline, potentially offering a way out of poverty.

That’s why HSBC is offering free basic banking services to vulnerable people in Hong Kong. The move follows the launch of a similar initiative in the UK.

Greg Hingston, Head of Wealth and Personal Banking for Asia Pacific, HSBC, said: “Many of Hong Kong’s most vulnerable residents struggle to get back on their feet because they lack a bank account.

“Part of our mission is to make financial services accessible to as many people as possible, improving lives and making our communities stronger in the process.”

Free basic banking is now available to rough sleepers, and people living in subdivided flats. Some of these flats don’t have a recognisable postal address, potentially preventing as many as 280,000 families in Hong Kong from opening bank accounts.

“Part of our mission is to make financial services accessible to as many people as possible”

The bank has worked with 12 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) over the past six months to design an application process that will help vulnerable people become financially independent and secure.

All they need to do is get a letter confirming their banking needs from an NGO, whose address is used for correspondence. They take the letter and proof of identity to a designated branch accompanied by an NGO worker.

Supporting excluded groups

In launching the latest services in Hong Kong, HSBC staff called upon the expertise of colleagues in the UK who set up a similar service in 2019.

Developed in collaboration with homelessness organisation Shelter UK, the initiative has enabled more than 300 customers without a fixed home address to open an account to receive benefit payments and wages.

In addition, more than 500 people who have experienced human trafficking are rebuilding their lives thanks to HSBC UK’s ‘Survivor Bank’ proposition, which enables them to open accounts if they have a letter from a charity verifying who they are and where they live. A first in UK banking, the UN cites it as an example of how banks can support survivors of this illegal trade.

Maxine Pritchard, Head of Financial Inclusion and Vulnerability for HSBC UK, said: “We’re proud of what we’ve achieved so far, which shows our commitment to offering vital support to people who would otherwise be excluded from banking. We will continue to identify vulnerable groups and offer them services that most of society takes for granted.”

We will continue to collaborate across markets to ensure financial services are within reach for other vulnerable groups, giving more people the chance to fulfil their potential.