How access to lifesaving banking services is helping Ukrainian refugees settle in the UK

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Basic banking services are essential to get by on a day-to-day basis – and for refugees coming from Ukraine, they are essential to being able to settle in the UK.

HSBC UK says it has helped more than 5,000 Ukrainian refugees open bank accounts.

Anastasiya Novik, who joined the bank as a staff member in 2020, having moved to Britain after living in Ukraine, helps Ukrainians open accounts.

Novik, who works in an HSBC UK branch in London, says: “I think our Ukrainian refugees need a lot of support when it comes to understanding our procedures and the branch team have been fantastic in helping them. to answer these questions.

(Anastasiya Novik/AP)

She says that while Ukrainian clients can often speak English, some may be hesitant to speak “because of an accent or a language barrier – and that’s where I can help them overcome that fear. I do a lot of translation for them, because I myself am a native Ukrainian speaker,” adds Novik.

HSBC UK says people can apply for one of its basic bank accounts by visiting one of its branches or logging on online.

Basic bank accounts have no borrowing facilities, such as overdraft, and come with a debit card but no credit card.

The bank says people will need to present identification documents, such as a valid passport, biometric residence permit or driver’s license and proof of address. This could, for example, be a letter from the owner confirming that he is staying at this property. Staff will work with clients to review available identification documents and provide further guidance if needed.

Novik, who still has family members in Ukraine, adds: “The war in Ukraine has definitely changed my life. I’m sure it won’t be the same again.

“I can’t enjoy life the way I used to and I’ve started noticing the little things in my life that I never enjoyed before, like having a safe place to live or enjoying a walk in the park. .”

She keeps in touch with her loved ones via video calls, saying: “I remember one day I could hear the sirens of bombings and air raids in the background… It was really scary to knowing that I couldn’t help my family at all.” Novik adds that his family is “doing well”.

Of the conversations she has had with clients, she continues: “We talk about everything, many of them have shared very personal stories with me, which really moved me. Some of them mentioned how they had lost friends or family members.

Kristina, 26, who had to leave her family in Ukraine, opened an account at an HSBC UK branch in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in north-east England.

She says, “The first thing that comes to mind when you are abroad and your loved ones are left behind in a country where there is a war is that you have to work to support your family. But before you can find a job, you need to open a bank account.

“I applied to HSBC UK with just a Ukrainian biometric passport, which allowed me to complete all the documents faster. I came to the bank before closing time and the staff stayed late to help me with everything arrange.

She also qualified for a free tablet from HSBC UK, part of a bank initiative to help vulnerable customers access digital services. The bank also says some customers may qualify for one of its standard bank accounts rather than a basic account, depending on the documents they can provide.

More information on the appropriate documents for an identity check can be found on their website ((hsbc.co.uk/help/banking-made-easy/help-us-identify-you)

Maxine Pritchard, Head of Financial Inclusion and Vulnerability at HSBC UK, said: “It is a sad reality that many people arriving in this country face difficulties accessing our financial system. This can make it more difficult to build a successful life in the UK – without a bank account, individuals cannot claim benefits, receive a salary or pay rent securely.

“We wanted to change that and are proud to have helped over 5,000 Ukrainian refugees so far. We play a small but important role in their journey.

The wider financial industry also said it was working to make the process for people to open accounts easier. Peter Tyler, Director of Personal Banking at trade association UK Finance, said: “The banking and finance industry is committed to supporting Ukrainian refugees. UK Finance and its members have worked closely with the government to facilitate the application process and businesses continue to open bank accounts to help Ukrainians who have come to the UK.

“Financial inclusion and access to banking services are key priorities for the banking and financial sector. The sector has dramatically reduced the number of adults who would go unbanked and provides basic bank accounts to more than seven million consumers who would otherwise struggle to access basic banking services. Tailored support is provided to a range of groups, such as prisoners, homeless people and refugees, to help them access the banking system.

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