People in prison are able to obtain correct ID and open a bank account ahead of their release thanks to a partnership between Westpac NZ and Ara Poutama Aotearoa.

The Bank Accounts Upon Release (BAUR) scheme (or New Start as it is known at Westpac), is the first of its kind in New Zealand and ensures people in prison have access to banking at the time they are released, to make it easier for them to reintegrate into the community.

A bank account is like a passport to the economy. Without one it’s hard to get a job, pay the rent, receive a benefit or do many of the other things we take for granted in our lives.

BAUR became available at all prison sites in December 2021, following a successful pilot programme in which over 60 applicants opened bank accounts before release.

Case Management & Probation Practice General Manager, Darius Fagan said, "individuals who have been released have enough upheaval to deal with in their lives. Being able to sort out an ID and bank account before release removes one more set of challenges. The process has been made so easy and it can all be done before someone is released," says Darius.

Setting up an account was often challenging for people in prison, who frequently lacked the required identity and address documents that a bank would need to open an account.

The BAUR programme starts by providing someone in prison with the right ID, which can then be used to open a transactional Westpac NZ bank account with a debit card. An important feature of this initiative is that Westpac NZ have accepted a prison as a verified address through the Personal Identity Profile (PIP) generated in IOMS.

The applicant and the case manager just need to fill out the paperwork, see an on site Justice of the Peace or a PCO to get their ID verified, and then send it to Westpac through REFER Online. When their account is opened, the individual receives a welcome pack with all the information they need about their new account. Their debit card is also sent to the prison and is kept with their property.

Westpac NZ still carefully consider all applications for bank accounts to ensure compliance with the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering of Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) Act 2009.

A Westpac NZ spokesperson says "a small number of prisoners will have their applications declined for these reasons but we’re taking a really open mind when we look at applications."

Westpac and Ara Poutama Aotearoa are looking forward to sharing the process with members of the New Zealand Bankers Association and with the intent of other banks adopting the process. Hopefully, this will give people in prison more options to choose who they bank with. Westpac Australia have begun to develop their own methods also.

Testimonial from a man at Tongariro Prison who participated in the New Start pilot programme:

The thought of getting a bank account was a hope of a better outcome upon my release. And when I asked about going through the process of getting a bank account I was apprehensive that it wasn’t even going to happen because I’ve been turned down a lot of times before due to my identity crisis/problem. So Lesley put my name down and about a week or two weeks later she gave me the forms to sign. A week after that I went up to the gate house and saw the JP and we filled out all the paperwork which was minimal. And about a week after that I got a letter from Westpac saying my account had been approved which was excellent. It was a good feeling knowing that I had a bank account to go out to. It changes everything for me.

Before, I wasn’t able to have a bank account because I’ve got several different names due to being ‘whangai-ed’ out when I was a kid and going through foster homes when I was a teenager. So I’ve had three different names which were pretty much made up names. And I didn’t find out my real name until I was in my 20s but by then I wasn’t able to access bank accounts anyway because all I had was a birth certificate, no photo ID or nothing, and none of my names matched up to who I was. So I couldn’t access a bank account or driver’s licence or anything like that. I was getting money put into other people’s accounts, and most of the time losing that money for whatever reason, so I’ve pretty much just had to use cash through my daily life and I’ve always felt that I was behind everyone else, and now with the new technologies I was really starting to feel outdated. This has actually brought me right up to now, this bank account. It’s going to make a big difference in my life, that’s for sure.