Financial Freedom

by British Columbia
Categories: Blog, Feature, Newswire

Financial Freedom

For most people, opening a bank account is as simple as going online or making an appointment at the nearest branch. But for a person without government identification or a permanent address, doing so may be impossible. That’s the situation many survivors face when they escape human trafficking. With a new financial access project, we hope to change that.

“There are some key barriers that make it difficult for survivors to re-engage in financial services, which puts them at risk for being trafficked again.”
Larissa Maxwell, The Salvation Army, Director of Anti-Human Trafficking Programs

Supporting Survivors

In 2016 worldwide, more than 40 million men, women and children were trapped in modern slavery and Canada is not immune. “We serve up to 700 survivors every year,” says Larissa Maxwell, Director of Anti-Human Trafficking Programs, The Salvation Army B.C. Division, “we’re the largest service provider in Canada, in terms of supporting survivors of human trafficking.”

With that cross-country reach and expertise in the field our Anti-Human Trafficking program was approached to take part in the Financial Access Project (FAP), an initiative of the United Nations’ Financial Sector Commission on Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking.

Taking Back Control

After signing on to take part in the pilot project, Maxwell began by putting together a consultation group of more than 20 survivors. Those consultations were revealing. One survivor shared that she’d never learned how to use an ATM …

“She was given a card but didn’t know how to withdraw money.”

Maxwell was moved by the hopes and dreams they shared. “One survivor said that her biggest goal was to save for her children’s education—children she had lost custody of because she was trafficked,” Maxwell notes. “Survivors’ financial goals are similar to other people’s goals, except many of them face quite a few barriers to reach them.” That list of barriers can be long – when they escape their traffickers, survivors usually do not have proper identification or a permanent address to give a financial institution. They often have debts—typically racked up by their trafficker—and some have a criminal record.

Best Practices

Once barriers were identified, we partnered with Scotiabank to begin eliminating some of them. Scotiabank was able to develop different methods that would allow survivors with identification constraints to open accounts. “We also provided financial literacy as part of the onboarding experience,” notes Gilberto Cedolia, Scotiabank, Office of Financial Crimes Risk Management. “Every survivor has a different background, so the onboarding was tailored to each individual.”

In September 2019, Maxwell and Stuart Davis, Scotiabank, Global Head Financial Crimes Risk Management and Group Chief Anti-Money Laundering Officer, were invited to present on the pilot project to the U.N. in New York City. While there, Maxwell also gave a presentation on eradicating modern-day slavery. “We received a flood of requests to consult with American financial institutions to help them develop similar projects,” says Maxwell.

Shining Light

During the pilot phase, four survivors participated in the FAP. “The survivors who went through the pilot told me it was the best experience they’d had with any institution—not just financial,” Maxwell shares.

“This program is a shining light down a long dark tunnel for me”
Human trafficking survivor

Scotiabank is now moving to make the FAP a permanent initiative and we are looking forward to working together to establish that.

Going forward, Maxwell’s goal is to make the program available to every survivor The Salvation Army supports, to set up a national referral system, and to bring all financial institutions across Canada on board. “For survivors to be able to stand on their own two feet financially—that is one of the strongest safeguards against trafficking, abuse and exploitation,” she concludes.


To learn more about our anti-human trafficking programs and how you can help visit