01 July 2022

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

01 July 2022

Basic banking services are essential for getting by day-to-day – and for refugees coming from Ukraine, they are vital part of being able to settle into life in the UK.

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

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

Novik, who works at an HSBC UK branch in London, says: “I feel that our Ukraine refugees require lots of support when it comes to understanding our procedures and the branch team have been fantastic in terms of helping them with those queries.”

(Anastasiya Novik/PA)

She says that while Ukrainian customers often can speak English, some may feel hesitant to speak “because of having an accent or language barrier – and this is where I can help them overcome that fear. I am doing lots of translating for them, as I am a native Ukrainian speaker myself,” Novik adds.

HSBC UK says people can apply for one of its basic bank account by visiting one of its branches or going online.

Basic bank accounts don’t have a borrowing facility, such as an overdraft, and come with a debit card but not a credit card.

The bank says people will need to present identification documents, such as a valid passport, biometric residence permit or driving licence and proof of address. This could, for example, be a letter from the homeowner confirming they are staying at that property. Staff will work with customers to review the ID documents available 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 am sure it won’t be the same anymore.

“I cannot enjoy life the way I used to and I’ve started noticing the small things in my life, which I never appreciated before, like having a safe place to live or enjoying a walk in the park.”

She keeps in touch with loved ones via video calls, saying: “I remember one day, I could hear the bombing and air raid sirens in the background… It felt really scary knowing that I could not help my family at all.” Novik adds that her family have been “doing OK”.

Of the conversations she’s had with customers, she continues: “We talk about everything, a lot of them have shared very personal stories with me, which made me quite emotional. Some of them mentioned how they lost their 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 the North East of England.

She says: “The first thing that comes to mind when you are abroad, and your relatives stayed in a country where there is a war, is that you need 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 meant I could complete all the documents faster. I came to the bank before closing and staff stayed late to help me arrange everything.”

She also qualified for a free tablet device from HSBC UK, as part of an initiative by the bank 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 what documents they can provide.

More information about the documents suitable for an ID 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, says: “It’s a sad fact that many people arriving in this country face difficulty accessing our financial system. This can make it harder to build a successful life in the UK – without a bank account, individuals cannot claim benefits, or receive wages or pay rent in a secure way.

“We wanted to change this and are proud to have helped over 5,000 Ukrainian refugees so far. We are playing a small but important part in their journey.”

The wider finance sector also says it’s been working to smooth the process for people to be able to open accounts. Peter Tyler, director of personal banking at trade association UK Finance, says: “The banking and finance sector is committed to supporting Ukrainian refugees. UK Finance and its members have worked closely with the government to help smooth the application process and firms are continuing 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 finance industry. The sector has significantly reduced the number of adults believed to be unbanked and provides basic bank accounts to over seven million consumers who would otherwise struggle to access core banking services. Tailored support is provided to a range of groups, such as prisoners, the homeless and refugees, to help them access the banking system.”

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