Sarah Wall 27 Jun 2024
An adult guides a young person in theor studies

A bank account is like a passport to the economy – without one, it can be difficult to get paid for a job or carry out many other day-to-day transactions most of us take for granted.

Westpac NZ recently updated its processes to make it easier for kids in the care of Oranga Tamariki to open bank accounts and gain that important access to our economy.

Westpac's Louisa Brock, Manager of Customer Vulnerability and Financial Inclusion, says young people in care can face a range of difficulties in accessing banking services.

This often includes the fact that consent from a parent or guardian is usually required for a young person to open a bank account, which is something kids in care may struggle to obtain.

In addition, Anti Money Laundering laws mean banks need to verify a potential customer’s identity and residential address – documents that may also be hard for a child in care to produce.

Westpac worked with Oranga Tamariki and VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai, an independent advocacy service for children and young people with care experience, on a pilot before updating its processes.

Since the change, young people aged 15-17 who are in the care of Oranga Tamariki are now able to open a Westpac bank account without requiring consent from a parent or guardian.   

To overcome the identity and address verification challenges, the new process allows young people to use standard ID or a birth certificate as primary identification, with a letter from Oranga Tamariki able to be accepted as a secondary form of ID/proof of address.  

Kiri Milne, Oranga Tamariki General Manager, Voices of Children and Young People, says her department is currently talking to other banks about updating their processes.  

“We want young people in care to have a choice of bank, like their peers, so we’re now working with other banks to ensure their processes are also accessible for care experienced young people.” 

National Care Standards require the payment of pocket money to children in care at a level appropriate to their age and circumstances. Currently this money is typically provided to caregivers to pass on – if young people have a bank account, it becomes much easier for them to access the funds to which they're entitled. 

Tupua Urlich, National Care Experienced Lead at VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai, has direct experience of how access to finances can make a difference for a child in care.  

“I began working on this initiative with Westpac and Oranga Tamariki because I understand how important it is to be able to access your pocket money in care,” Urlich said.

“For years I depended on it to maintain communication with my sister who lived in a different part of the country. While I didn’t have a bank account at that stage, I was lucky to have a carer who would give me my pocket money so I could buy a prepaid envelope to write to my sister. 

"Having a bank account and knowing how to use it, and how money works, are such important things to have... you just must have a bank account and financial literacy to have a fair chance in life.” 

Brock says it’s taken a lot of work to get to this point.

“We first met with Oranga Tamariki about this issue in 2018 so it’s been quite a journey. We’re grateful for the support of numerous stakeholders along the way, including The Tindall Foundation and Toitū Tahua – Centre for Sustainable Finance, and it’s been invaluable to have direct input from care experienced people through VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai. We hope these processes can now become standard across the industry.”