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Starting from scratch

Moving to a new country involves a host of challenges -- from finding a place to live to finding a grocery store. While the majority of newcomers to Canada are excited about new opportunities, almost half worry they won't have the money to live comfortably.

Managing finances is an important piece of the puzzle, and 40 per cent of newcomers to Canada say it's more difficult than they expected, according to a recent poll from the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). About 63 per cent of those surveyed are excited to see what the future holds in Canada -- but 47 per cent worry they won't have enough money.

"Newcomers go through a massive process," says Camon Mak, director of multicultural markets at RBC. Finance-wise, he adds, "the common pain points are setting up an account and establishing a credit history."

Citizenship and Immigration Canada estimates it will welcome between 240,000 and 265,000 new permanent residents in 2011. Many come as skilled workers or with savings -- but others come with nothing or from the poorest regions of the world, where banking as we know it is completely foreign.

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Banks competing for growing target
New Canadians represent an important target market for the country's financial institutions. By 2030, immigrants from other countries will be Canada's main source of population growth, according to Statistics Canada.

RBC's "Welcome to Canada" package "is specifically tailored to meet their needs and ease the transition," says Mak. "We try to alleviate the stress. The idea is to help new Canadians get integrated faster."

The package and the "Understanding Banking in Canada" guidebook tackle the fundamentals of personal finances, setting up a business and sending money overseas.

Scotiabank's "StartRight Program" is designed specifically for landed immigrants who have been in Canada up to three years; the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce's "Newcomers to Canada Plan" targets those who have obtained permanent residence within the last two years; BMO introduced its "Newcomers to Canada Program" in May; and TD offers programs to help people at different life stages.

Of course, the big five aren't the only ones zeroing in on new Canadians. Most financial institutions are getting in on the action, and there's a growing presence of banks with an international flavour. For instance, ICICI Bank Canada, a subsidiary of one of India's largest banks, is in expansion mode with ATMs that feature six languages, staff who speak more than 15 languages and money transfers to a variety of south Asian countries.

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-- Posted November 29, 2010
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