Pigeon Park Savings is continuously innovating to provide low barrier banking services to the Downtown Eastside.
A unique collaboration between PHS and Vancity credit union, it provides financial services to people living on low incomes who are often excluded from conventional banking.
Marginalized customers are treated with dignity and respect – including being welcomed by community peers when arriving.
“Unlike every other financial institution on the DTES, or anywhere else in the city for that matter, we have actively chosen to not have added security at the front door, instead offering a low barrier approach in peer support,” said Pigeon Park Savings branch manager Sharon Buchanan.
“The peer support has been invaluable. They greet members with a mask and hand sanitizer at the door, they manage the queue and sanitize teller stations between transactions.”
The branch moved to its current 346 E. Hastings St. location in January 2021, as the previous site is being replaced by housing. The new location is very nice, but considerably smaller.
“We knew there would be a certain amount of change management with the new branch being a fraction of the size of our previous space. But that was an understatement once we were doing it through COVID-19,” said Sharon.
“During the pandemic, we have started working with other community agencies to help keep folks from coming to the branch unnecessarily. We are facilitating account openings remotely, doing a lot more telephone banking for members and working with support workers to help members who would otherwise be unable to come in to the branch.
“We’ve had to navigate dealing with a major influx of new clients as cheque cashing places closed down. We also gained a lot more business through the extra payments issued by the Provincial and Federal governments.
“Pigeon Park Savings has been leaned on heavily throughout this pandemic.”
The branch has grown to nearly 5,000 members. There are more than 1,000 transactions on ‘cheque day,’ when government income assistance payments arrive.
All the same, staff pride themselves on remembering customers’ names and offering a warm greeting.
“Our success is down to the relationships we build with people,” said Sharon. “Our customers want to be recognized – people are so happy when we greet them by their name and we know particulars of how they bank.”
A large part of the tellers’ jobs is listening to members’ needs and providing supports – which begins with providing help obtaining ID to open an account – and building trust among people who may previously have experienced poor service from financial institutions.
“It helps that people know we’re PHS,” she said. “From the outset, people recognize that, and it makes them feel comfortable. They have already built that relationship.”
Many customers initially visit for cheque cashing, and over repeated visits come to realize the benefits of services ranging from direct deposits to bill payments.
“What we do is a form of harm reduction – this is a safe place for people to put their money so they aren’t carrying a month’s cash,” said Sharon. “We advise people, and help them build up financial literacy, and give referrals to those who want to access more products elsewhere.”
Some join Pigeon Park Savings as a temporary measure while sorting out hassles at other banks in town – and that’s fine, too.
“People often tell me they’ve had their purse stolen or lost their ID, or something has happened in their lives and they are locked out of their bank account elsewhere. We’re a safe, friendly place to keep their money while they obtain ID again to re-access these accounts.”
Launched March 2004 to enable people living in poverty to become financially stable, for many in the neighbourhood, Pigeon Park Savings is the only alternative to exorbitant cheque cashing services or predatory lenders – and the only safe place to store cash.
Pigeon Park Savings
346 E. Hastings St, Vancouver B.C.
Monday to Thursday 11 am – 5 pm, Friday 12 pm – 6 pm
604 678 8276