Christin Milloy:

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PC Financial Issues New Training to Correct Discrimination Problem


I received an update on Friday (May 27), from my contact Vicki at CIBC on behalf of President’s Choice Financial services.

With pleasure, I can now relate to you that CIBC/President’s Choice Financial has distributed new training messages to all front-line CSRs, intended to address the issue I first raised on May 14, that PC Financial’s onerous name change policy constitutes adverse-effect discrimination against transgender people.

Previously, CSRs were simply sending away customers without new ID, including transgender customers, unless the CSR was so personally moved by the customer’s individual story that the CSR’s “common sense” motivated them to escalate the issue to a supervisor in Vicki’s department, who would know how to help those in need.

Unfortunately, as shown by PC Financial failing a call-in spot-check test on May 19 (and the sheer number of times I originally called in for help and was turned away), the majority of front-line CSRs failed to register the special needs of the trans community as part of their “common sense,” which created (albeit unintentionally) an insurmountable firewall of discrimination against transgender customers.

Following  the failed test, which made it clear that more effort was needed, the new alert to CSRs “went out at the end of last week (circa May 20),” Vicki said. A followup email to PC Financial on May 27, asking to see a copy of this training message, was not returned as of this writing.

According to Vicki, the training message does not mention transgender people specifically, but it does instruct CSRs to escalate to Vicki’s department any and all name change requests where the customer does not have updated ID.

If the policy is followed properly, it should have the desired effect: all trans customers who’ve gone through a name change, and who need to bank in their new name but who haven’t yet had the opportunity to acquire new government ID, or who can’t wait the time necessary to receive new ID, or for whom access to new ID is a barrier issue for financial or other reasons, will no longer be turned away by PC Financial; rather, they will henceforth have access to, and be helped by, Vicki’s department.

All CSRs at PC Financial’s call centre, as well as those working at the physical customer service Pavilions, will receive this training message via an electronic message-board system which runs on PC Financial’s corporate intranet. Logging in and reading new messages on this system is “the first thing (CSRs) do when they start their shift,” Vicki explained, saying CSRs are “required to” keep up to date on the contents of these messages. By sending the message through this system, Vicki assures, all front-line CSRs will definitely be made aware of it. Furthermore, “the messages stay in the system forever,” so future CSRs “will always have access to them,” she stated.

Regarding the question of PC Financial making a donation to the Supporting Our Youth program in lieu of the conciliatory $100 deposit they offered me, Vicki informed me that beaurocratic configuration prevents her department from making that happen directly… So the deposit went into my bank account, and I will be dropping off a cheque for SOY this week.

I must congratulate PC Financial for taking the steps necessary to reconcile their complicated name change policy with the need to prevent discrimination, even if the help comes in the form of a corrective workaround to the policy as opposed to the ideal permanent solution, which would be to bring PC Financial’s official name change policy more in line with what is seen from the major banks in Canada (whose name change policies are compared and contrasted in my original article). Why PC Financial needs to impose such a restrictive and complicated name change policy on its customers still remains unclear.

“It does seem strange,” agreed Eunice Chen, Manager of Diversity Community Relations at TD Canada Trust, who also agreed that stringent name change rules have the potential to harm trans customers.

I caught up with Eunice this week to discuss measures TD has undertaken to directly assist the LGBT community, such as the new trust scholarship for trans youth which I reported on last week. TD Canada Trust has perhaps the simplest (and therefore the most inclusive) name change procedure: simply bring the name change certificate to a branch.

Eunice’s department, Diversity Community Relations, works with diverse communities across Canada (and the United States) implementing outreach programs and providing needed supports. I asked her, if a similar issue were to be raised at TD, whereby a certain hypothetical practice or policy was found to have an adverse-effect discrimination against a minority group such as trans people, would her department be responsible for advising corrections to the policy?

“Not directly,” she said, although she indicated that in such a hypothetical situation, TD would probably want to consult with their trans-identified employees to get an assessment of the impact, and would probably liaise through Eunice’s department.

TD’s Diversity Community Relations department even has a person dedicated specifically to work with the LGBT community. TD Canada Trust sponsors queer-positive education, anti-bullying campaigns, anti-homophobia campaigns, PFLAG, HIV awareness, and films. In addition to having no less than 11 separate employee Pride networks internal to the company (comprised of more than 1,500 employees), TD also provides significant financial sponsorship to 10 annual Pride festivals across Canada (including Toronto Pride), and 5 in the United States.

What really caught my attention, however, was the trans youth scholarship. “(TD Canada Trust) has been sponsoring TDSB (Toronto District School Board) for years,” explained Eunice.

TDSB’s Triangle program acts as a safe harbour for queer students in the GTA who have experienced homophobic or transphobic harassment at their original schools. “We found there was a high percentage of trans youth (in the program),” explained Eunice, who went on to say the percentage was somewhere around 30%, “and so we decided to do something to help them.”

In addition to doing such good deeds for the LGBT community, TD also puts out queer-inclusive advertising. Every year around Pride time in Toronto’s queer neighborbood, “The Village,” one can find posters depicting apparently queer couples, bearing TD’s Logo and the phrase “Proud to be your bank.”

“It’s definitely great to see that sort of inclusion and support around Pride time, and in the queer areas of the city,” I expressed to Eunice, “but when might we start to see more LGBT people in your general advertisements?”

I pointed out to her that TD’s general mailings, and branch signage, depict people of all different racial backgrounds– including interractial couples. However, they have never sent out an ad or displayed a poster featuring LGBT people (to my knowledge), other than in “The Village” area, right around Pride time. So I wanted to know, with TD clearly committed to undertaking such positive and commendable acts in support of the LGBT community, when might we see more mainstream inclusion of queer people in their marketing materials?

“That is a very good question,” Eunice conceded. She did inform me that, although I had never seen them, TD has in fact put some marketing materials featuring LGBT couples into the mainstream, in the form of posters at their branches. “Two of them,” she said, as part of a pilot project (an experiment of sorts). One featured a female couple and was for TD Waterhouse RSPs, the other featured a male couple and was for TD Chequing accounts.

Where might these posters have been seen? “There are 168 branches in the GTA, of which 30 or 40 were identified as being in gay friendly areas,” she explained. Only branches in those “gay friendly areas” would have received the imagery. It’s a small step forward, but TD should be commended for being the first Canadian bank to take that step.

TD Canada Trust’s fantastic ongoing support of the LGBT community, and their gradual inclusion of queer people into their marketing to the (more-or-less) mainstream audience, make them hard to beat in terms of choosing a banking institution that supports queer people. On the other hand, PC Financial’s no-fee personal banking options make them appealing to underpriveleged persons of all description, including those in the trans community (who, statistically speaking, tend to be economically disadvantaged).

Regardless, there is one thing which TD’s large-scale investment in community support has in common with PC’s small-scale corrective action to repair the way CSRs deal with trans people: they both prove that banks and other institutions across Canada know that they can no longer afford to maintain policies which, directly or otherwise, contribute to the discrimination of LGBT people.

CORRECTION- FRIDAY JUNE 3, 2011, 12:30PM

In an earlier version of this post, I originally reported incorrectly that Eunice Chen’s Diversity Community Relations Department at TD Canada Trust consisted of 1,500 employees. In fact it is TD’s 11 Employee Pride networks which consist of more than 1,500 employees, whereas Eunice’s Diversity Community Relations Department is much smaller.

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Christin Milloy