Easing students’ financial woes

When Ryan Chen-Wing first stumbled across the entirely student-operated Georgetown University credit union during a research project, he was struck by the idea that such success might be mirrored in Waterloo.

“We have talented students at Waterloo and Laurier,” the University of Waterloo student commented. “If it can be done anywhere in Canada, it can be done here.”

Chen-Wing is the founder and project leader of Waterloo Banking Project, a business which will provide an alternative platform for student money management. The financial institution will include services typically offered by larger banks, such as accounts, loans and credit cards, but will be entirely run by unpaid students from both of the local universities.

Students, Chen-Wing believes, would be more adequately prepared to provide financial advice and banking services to their peers due to their personal experiences.

“We expect to be competitive in terms of our prices and our rates, but we think that we’d be able to help students more in terms of advising them,” said Chen-Wing. “Here’s something where we’re in the same situation as students, and we can talk to them sort of on their own level.”

The goal, said Helena Cao, who is the senior director of Waterloo Banking Project, is for students “to be able to carry themselves through their education with the least amount of debt that they can have.”

The agreement is currently being finalized with an interested partner. Chen-Wing explained, “When we presented to them, and they were excited about it, that really validated the idea for us. Here is someone who could help us, and who is in the business, and says yeah, that makes sense.”

Cao acknowledged that the co-op opportunities provided by both universities exemplify the ability of students to work to a professional standard. “This experience will hopefully help them in the future, and develop their career path in a way that’s more beneficial than it is already,” she said.

Steffen Ziss, the chair of the department of economics at Wilfrid Laurier, was in agreement. “ I mean you have a School of Accounting and Finance over there [at the University of Waterloo], you have a BBA program here, and they’re all doing finance, and they may have some knowledge about how banking works,” he said.

Ziss continued, “I think from a monitoring perspective it’s kind of a plus, relative to what currently is available, where, you know, there’s a pretty distant relationship between the person lending the money, and you.”

However, he also acknowledged that the selection process for hiring students would have to be particularly careful. “They’re here for four years, and then they’re gone, so if they make some bad loans to other students and are not held accountable to that, then that’s a problem,” said Ziss.

“There’s still that issue of keeping the bankers honest.”

Waterloo Banking Project aims to open in the spring of 2013. In the meanwhile, students are encouraged to complete the organization’s online survey to further understanding of student needs and desired financial services.