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(Amanda Fiore / The McGill Tribune)

SSMU’s great bank switch

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As part of a massive financial overhaul, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) is currently switching from ScotiaBank to the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). SSMU was one of ScotiaBank’s biggest customers with over 230 accounts.

“We’re one of the only student unions that gives this many clubs this many bank accounts,” SSMU Vice-President (VP) Finance Jun Wang said. “[ScotiaBank and RBC] have never encountered a client with this many sub-accounts.”

The original ScotiaBank contract was drawn up in 1992 and has not been updated since. Wang blames it for creating communication issues, confusion, and red tape for SSMU clubs, which motivated the switch. According to him, a particular difficulty was that clubs had to communicate with both SSMU and ScotiaBank to receive funding. This made tracking requests for funding and club purchases unnecessarily convoluted.

Preparations for the switch have been ongoing for some time. Last year, former VP Finance Arisha Khan and her substitute, former VP Finance Esteban Herpin, proposed to transition SSMU accounts from ScotiaBank to RBC. Over the summer, Jun Wang, along with ScotiaBank staff, RBC bankers, and a handful of SSMU staff, began cataloguing SSMU club accounts, some of which existed only on paper. In the process they temporarily shut down inactive accounts for the summer and moved each account to RBC. The team also created customized software for SSMU, eliminating any need for mediators and making online banking for clubs simple and more accessible.

Wang trained club executives in the new system through eight workshops at the start of the school year. Communication issues between clubs and himself, lack of space, and limited personnel means that some clubs are still straggling behind, but the switch is still on track to be completed by next semester.

Wang is confident that the financial overhaul will simplify and strengthen the funding process. Clubs will be able to receive money from SSMU through direct deposits without needing to contact RBC, creating a trackable funding system.

This process requires clubs to assume complete financial responsibility. With the ScotiaBank system, confusion and clutter meant clubs were not made fully aware of guidelines, creating further problems for SSMU. Wang hopes that transforming the way in which clubs receive funds will make the banking system more approachable.

“This bank transfer legitimizes the [funding] process and makes sure clubs take banking more seriously,” Wang said. “[Access to bank accounts is] a big privilege that we are extending.”

Over the past few weeks, all SSMU funding underwent a ‘blackout’ period while accounts switched from ScotiaBank to RBC. Eva Ren, a SSMU funding commissioner, works directly with clubs to approve funds.

“All student groups that have been approved for funding cannot receive their funds until after the freeze,” Ren said.

F WORD, a McGill feminist multimedia magazine, needed funds for its launch party on Nov. 15. According to Judy Huang, an F WORD coordinator, the launch coincided with the blackout period.

F WORD was able to work with both SSMU, and our printer to pay the printing cost through SSMU, which was great as it is the largest expense of the semester.” Huang said.  “The SSMU executives were helpful and definitely solved the printing issue. But, otherwise, all costs were paid out of our own pockets [as] we wait for our funds to be accessible again.”

According to Wang, when funds become available again next semester, clubs that were affected by the blackout will be refunded.

Wang plans to see the bank transfer through, even with the unforeseen complications that cropped up during the process. To help future VP Finance executives continue the transfer smoothly, he plans to refine and document each step during his term.

“Hopefully, out of this will come something a lot better,” Wang said. “Moving forward, we’ll have institutional memory so that the next VP Finance knows exactly what to do instead of creating a process from scratch.”

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