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Acorn Canada holds New Westminster protest of money-sending fees

Members of ACORN protest in front of the Bank of Nova Scotia on Columbia Street against what they say are excessive fees charged by financial institutions for wire transfers of money to relatives in foreign countries. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER
Members of ACORN protest in front of the Bank of Nova Scotia on Columbia Street against what they say are excessive fees charged by financial institutions for wire transfers of money to relatives in foreign countries.
— image credit: MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER

A small group took to the cold, windy streets of Downtown New Westminster during the noon hour Tuesday to protest fees charged by Western Union and financial institutions for sending money overseas.

Acorn Canada spokeswoman Nancy Anemba led about eight people in a rally in front of the Scotiabank at Columbia and Begbie streets. They want the bank to put pressure on Western Union to reduce remittance fees charged to those wiring money back home to five per cent. Acorn says most of its clients have low-income jobs and send on average only $150 at a time. That often means the fees accumulate to 18 per cent or more for the sender.

Like many other immigrants and refugees in New Westminster, Anemba said she has been sending money to family in Nairobi, Kenya ever since arriving in Canada a little over five years ago. Most of the money she wired went to her daughter until she joined Anemba here five months ago. Now it goes to her parents. Western Union provides the money-sending service through banks, payday loan outlets and convenience stores.

“The only way they can do it is through Western Union. They know that’s the only way we can send money back home so they exploit us,” said Anemba. “They say it’s cheaper, but there’s so many hidden fees. They’re not that transparent. If you add up everything, the difference is so much. If they lower it, if it was five per cent it would do me good because I would have so much more money to send back home.”

Acorn, which fights for economic and social justice, targeted Scotiabank because the financial institution said when it formed its partnership in 2008 it showed its commitment to multicultural communities. Acorn said it wasn’t a commitment by the bank to serve new Canadians but about making money.

“[Scotiabank is] really trying to promote diversity in Canada. At least make [the fees] standard so everyone can use this service,” said Anemba.

The different fees that are added on, such as for the exchange rate and for making an overseas transaction, baffles Anemba because she feels it is a simple transaction. “You send it now it will be available to [the intended recipient] within minutes. So if they can go after an hour and get the money, why do they charge you so much money for that?”

Acorn did a similar protest at a Money Mart in Burnaby last year, but didn’t get much action from it. “They promised to go talk but they didn’t do anything,” said Anemba.

Acorn is calling on the federal and provincial governments to regulate the fees.

Scotiabank spokeswoman Ann DeRabbie said when the institution initiated the agreement with Western Union in 2008 it was looking to expand its network. She said it had a large international presence being in 50 countries, "but we were looking to give our customers access to 200 countries, more than we could provide."
She said the service provides the ability to send money quickly, securely and conveniently. Although a small fee stays with the bank, there are a lot of costs involved including 24-hour-a-day fraud monitoring, security protocol, system upgrades and providing a global network.
"Then the store owner on the other end who agrees to accept that money and then turns it over has to be paid. There are a lot of costs that go into that," said DeRabbie.

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