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RBC innovation brings banking services to remote community in Labrador

When the Innu Education school board in Sheshatshiu needed bank accounts for their employees, they contacted RBC Royal Bank. Mike Spurrell, Branch Manager of the Happy Valley-Goose Bay branch, took the call and quite literally, flew into action.

In June 2010, Spurrell hopped aboard a small cargo plane and flew to Natuashish, situated on the coast of Labrador, 300 kilometres north of Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Upon arrival, he set up his temporary office in the community’s new band council building and quickly got down to business opening accounts, so that school board and council employees could begin to receive their paycheques through direct deposit.

“I worked through those fairly quickly,” he says. However, Spurrell’s new clients soon began asking about accounts for their children, parents and friends. With no banking facilities in a community of 725 residents, many had never been able to open accounts before and were limited to cashing cheques at the only store in town, the Mushuau Innu General Store.

“The challenge is that the first 10 people or so who get to the store get their cheques cashed, and then the store runs out of cash,” explains Spurrell. “So while most people have a paycheque, they may not have the physical dollars and cents to purchase groceries and other needed items.”

The community radio station put out a call to let people know that Mike from RBC was in town to help people open bank accounts. People of all ages started showing up; most wanted to seize the opportunity to open their very first bank accounts.

“I didn’t really have much slow time in the two days I was there,” says Spurrell. “But whenever I didn’t have anybody in to see me, the folks at the radio station put out another call to the community to say I had some openings, and sure enough, a few minutes later, another person or two would be coming through the door.”

At the end of two very busy days, Spurrell opened 50 new accounts — an enormous social benefit to the community. Now, with RBC Royal Bank direct deposit services, residents can take their bank card to the local store and purchase groceries using a debit machine, eliminating the need for cash.

A lot of the new clients were young people in their twenties, explains Spurrell. He says a bank account is an anchor for them, and may help to open more doors down the road — whether it’s for a loan to go to school or start a business, a mortgage or an RRSP. “Everybody has to start somewhere,” he says. “I think the most important thing is RBC Royal Bank has the ability to offer remote banking and can go to communities like Natuashish and get it done.”