Banks & Business

Last year I got a call from my bank informing me that I needed to open a business account if I was going to continue receiving payments from my day job clients (which, at that time, went into a personal chequing account). I suppose that’s one way to know that your business is doing ok. But what followed was instructive.

First, I called the bank in order to set this up. But when they asked what my registered business name was, it seemed to come apart. I told them I didn’t have one — I’m a sole proprietor, and my name is the name of the business. I was told flat out that they couldn’t process my request until they had proof of my business being registered. So, I thought I’d make it super easy and go in-person to one of the two local branches I have a decent relationship with. And there I sat, speaking with a representative — a man probably 15+ years younger than me — and sure enough the same question came up: what was my registered business name? I shrugged and said it was my name: Matt Cahill, Psychotherapist. I told him that my business was registered with Canada Revenue and that I’d been making HST payments for the last seven years. In other words, I was legitimate (especially by virtue of them asking me to setup a business account). He seemed unable to understand what I was saying and, you guessed it, insisted that he couldn’t set up a business account without a registered business name. Seeing a brick wall in front of me, I thanked him for his time and left.

I spent the next couple of days figuring out what was wrong and, importantly, why was no one listening to me given that not everyone who starts their business is using a name like Speedy Lube, or Debbie’s House of Cheese. There are plenty of other professionals, like myself, who must be going by their name, I told myself. I decided to give it one more try, and booked an appointment at the other local branch. This time I came with a printed page from my online CRA business account (yes, like something one of my parents would have done in the 90s), which displayed my name with my registered HST number. When the moment came for the representative, a woman closer to my age, to ask me for my details, I just handed her the page. She glanced at it and entered the information and everything went as I’d initially thought it would a week earlier.

I walked away from this experience wondering, given what I went through, how someone who isn’t a white guy in his late 40s, who doesn’t have a 20+ year history with their bank would’ve have felt. I sure as hell felt frustrated that in my first two dealings, neither of the representatives bothered to consider the context of how my business is set up. I’m not running a cleaning company, I’m not a numbered corporation. I thought to myself: what if I was some kid trying to start a business? What if I wasn’t already established, had income coming in?

So, when I read this article in The Star (apologies if it is paywalled), about Vivian Kaye, a Black woman who, when she tried to start a business, couldn’t find a bank or business incubator who could understand the context of her business model — in this case, selling hair extensions for a predominantly Black clientele — even in spite of her eventual success, I felt angry. Particularly at what she calls “the quiet racism we have here in Canada.” It is a perception I’ve long heard from BIPOC Canadians, and each time I come across it I feel ashamed. Why, in the 21st century, are people such as Kaye having to practically teach banks about certain products, not to mention profitable sectors, that aren’t but should be on their radar? What, in other words, are banks, who are most often de facto gate-keepers for small business owners, doing to modernize their ability to understand the many different types of businesses (and perspectives) that are out there?