Broadband will ease move to new bank system

High speed communication key to banking in remote communities



The arrival of high-speed access to the Internet in Nunavut’s communities will make banking possible where it wasn’t before, says the territory’s lead Internet agency.

Dave Smith, president of the Nunavut Broadband Development Corp., said his group’s work will remove a long-standing barrier to banking services in the territory’s smaller communities by early next year.

He said residents in Nunavut’s far-flung settlements have been neglected by the country’s banking sector because they lacked a strong communications infrastructure that would allow them to install bank machines.

But Smith said that will change by March, 2005, when his non-profit organization completes a plan to deliver broadband access to Nunavut’s 25 communities. By installing satellite dishes and millions of dollars of antennae and computers around the territory this winter, he predicts Nunavummiut will be able to connect to the Internet, and transfer information quickly, for an affordable fee.

“It’ll be state-of-the-art, broadband, high-speed communication,” he said in an interview last week. “That’ll mean it’ll be easier to implement banking.”

Banking specialists backed up Smith’s predictions this week in a report submitted to Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. at their board meeting in Baker Lake.

Consultants for RT Associates Ltd. told NTI that to provide financial services, like savings accounts, personal loan programs, and banking machines to the communities, they will need sophisticated communications infrastructure, such as the system that NBDC plans to launch next year.

NTI has been researching how to start a made-in-Nunavut financial institution, like a bank, trust company or credit union, for almost a year. Many Nunavummiut who support the project have noted that previous failed attempts to create a credit union in the North didn’t have the benefit of high-tech communications.

According to Smith, the coming broadband infrastructure bodes well for the communities, where many residents have little choice, except to give their money to the Northern store for safe-keeping, without gaining any interest.

When improved Internet services arrive, a Nunavut bank or credit union should be able to set up a network of bank machines around the territory. In theory, someone could deposit money in a shared account in Iqaluit, and their partner in another community could take money out the same day, for a minimal charge, compared to the Northern store wire service.

The Nunavut banking system, backed by fast Internet links, could also be a boon for unilingual Inuktitut-speaking Inuit, Smith says. Inuit unfamiliar with banking would be able to meet with trained Inuit banking officials in other communities, through video-conferencing, where two people can speak to each other, and see each other on a screen.

“[Accounts officers] could be in one community providing service for many communities,” Smith said.

Smith, who first worked in banking communications technology in the 1970s, expects NTI’s push for financial services in the communities will help Nunavut become a more independent territory.

He said increased personal saving and investing in Nunavut will boost local economies, and improve people’s day-to-day lives.

“[Banking] is part of a robust economy,” Smith said. “It’s an important step in Nunavut’s evolution.”

The NBDC, a not-for-profit entity set up to provide high-speed Internet access to all 25 Nunavut communities, will spend $7.3 million to finish the broadband network. NBDC staff are considering hosting workshops in the future about how to do personal banking on the Internet.

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