Employees of the Savings Bank in Barsinghausen, near Hannover, had gone to great lengths. Warm waffles and hot chocolate were ready. Interpreters were standing by, but no one knew whether the Syrian, Moroccan or Afghan refugees who had been invited were really going to come. They did, and the atmosphere was friendly and excited. The municipal administration and the Savings Bank had decided to hold this Open Day to help refugees who need a bank account to participate in everyday life.
However, even in a town like Barsinghausen, it’s not only refugees who need to be able to open an account easily, without having to overcome major obstacles. As in any town, there are citizens who, for example, have no income or have declared personal insolvency. “For a while now, we have experienced a slow but steady rise in demand for Citizen Accounts”, says Martin Wildhagen, spokesman for the bank. Over the past years, Mr Wildhagen and his colleagues have noticed that an increasing number of people have experienced difficulty in opening an account: “There are many different reasons for this. Some people, for example, are dependent on social security payments others are affected by old-age poverty.” The local soup kitchen confirms that there seems to be a trend in the region: according to Mr Wildhagen, the number of their customers is also increasing.
Why does a bank need to offer a Citizen Account in the first place? To open a regular current account in Germany, a customer has to provide, among other things, proof of permanent residence and, especially, creditworthiness. However, not everyone can meet these requirements. As a consequence, people cannot participate in daily economic life, as without an account it is impossible for them to rent a flat or sign an employment contract.
In the city of Barsinghausen, approximately 150 German citizens and 270 refugees rely on their Citizen Accounts. “In the case of refugees, these figures keep changing because not all of them stay,” says Mr Wildhagen. Compared with the total of 11,000 private accounts held with the Savings Bank, the share of Citizen Accounts is limited. And yet, even though the number of Citizen Accounts may be small in comparison, to those concerned they mean a lot. “You hear many sad stories”, Ferit Tarak, customer relationship manager at Stadtsparkasse Barsinghausen and of Kurdish origin himself, says.