2020-12-16T17:19:46-05:00Apr 17, 2020|

Helping newcomers get over cultural barriers to reach their goals in Canada

From an interview with Wanzi Silva – Banking Advisor, RBC Meeting Place


When Wanzi came to Canada from Sri Lanka in 2017, she was a private investment banker with a four-page long resume and an elevator pitch that went to the top of the CN tower. Now, as an advisor at RBC Newcomer Meeting Place, Wanzi helps newcomers achieve their goals by providing guidance, resources and answers. This is Wanzi’s story.


I love to share my newcomer experience. It’s very personal. I came to Canada from Sri Lanka with my husband and children in 2017. I heard about RBC Newcomer Meeting Place when I attended a hiring information session through Brampton Multicultural Centre. RBC Meeting Place works with community organizations like ACCESS Employment, Brampton Multicultural Centre, and The Centre for Training and Education. When I went for a session one day, I happened to meet an RBC advisor,  and even though I’d been a banking professional, we didn’t talk about banking right away. The conversation was more or less about how employment works, certain employment strategies – like what to do, what not to do.

For example, my resume (or CV, as we called it) was four pages long. The advisor told me there is a Canadian standard format, which is two pages – not four. Also, my introduction was taking a few minutes – a good three to four minutes. I was talking about how I started my journey as a bank teller, and then going step by step, and not really highlighting certain key features. So she told me about the value proposition or the 30-second introduction (also known as an elevator pitch). 

These are things that I did not know coming from Sri Lanka: starting with the format of a resume to the conversation style. There were certain cultural differences, I would say culture barriers, and even certain words that we use that are different.

The first session was very, very informative. To be honest, I asked myself, “Why is this person giving me so much detail apart from banking? This is all about questions around employment, settlement and life.” Even when I first visited the branch with my family, she greeted me so well – so welcoming. 

RBC Newcomer Meeting Place: You are welcome

The words ‘meeting place’ explain it so well – it’s a really nice, cozy environment. It doesn’t look like a typical bank at all. It’s so comfortable. It’s a very colourful, and vibrant place I would say. The moment you enter, there are small tables and chairs; it’s like a little lounge. You don’t have the typical bank teller counters or a lot of people, just perhaps two advisors who make direct eye contact and are very welcoming. 

“Everybody is welcome in our space whether they bank with RBC or not, that’s the beauty of it.”

On the walls, the posters would give you certain questions,”Do you know how to file taxes in Canada? Do you know about tax benefits? What are the healthcare systems?” Even if you are there to ask one question, perhaps about employment, you could ask a question about anything. So for me, when I sat down, when I looked at that, I said, “Hey, do you help me with these as well?” The adviser was like, “Of course. We go by the motto ‘ask us anything.’” I was like, “Wow, this is amazing!” Why is a bank doing this, you know? Giving these kinds of ‘beyond banking’ services?” I now work as an advisor at RBC Newcomer Meeting Place, and that’s the kind of response that we get on a daily basis.

I am an RBC Newcomer Meeting Place success story

I was a private banking relationship manager with a multinational bank back home, and that was the ambition to somehow join private banking here one day. But things have changed. I love what I’m doing right now, and it’s very, very satisfying to me. This concept is very close to my heart. That’s because I’ve gone through the journey.

Day-to-day, I see clients coming in with similar backgrounds. I always start by saying, “I’m Wanzi, and I too was new to the country, and I’ve shared the same journey as you through the settlement and employment, and this is my story.” So I lead with my example all the time, and it really resonates with people. It’s because I’ve gone through the same journey myself, and when I’m explaining to them, I see that there is a connection versus someone who doesn’t know what it’s like. 

A client might tell me, “You know, I live in a basement now with my family. It’s really frustrating.” I always share my story and tell them about my journey. I tell them that I’ve been in the country for basically two years, and not to worry. I was also able to buy my first home through planning by going through a step-by-step process. We are able to help newcomers with planning, budgeting and financial advice.

Helping newcomers understand banking in Canada and more

Beyond giving them financial advice, we always work with the client to see if they understand how banking works in Canada. That’s one of the primary questions that we ask, and many newcomers don’t.

For example, I never had a chequing account back home. We only had a savings account, and it had unlimited transactions. But here, the savings account is purely for saving, while your chequing account is transactional. So, we sit together with clients and explain to them as a newcomer, there are certain things that you would want to understand apart from just opening an account.

Also, we help newcomers understand why it’s important to have a credit card and to build their credit score. A credit score is your financial reputation in Canada. If you don’t pay a phone bill on time, that can impact your credit rating. So we break things down and explain them to the client; we even talk about why it’s not safe to divulge information over the phone – so a little bit on cyber security as well. Beyond being nice,friendly and welcoming, we educate people about the importance of understanding how banking works.

In terms of housing and settlement, It’s always about the budget, right? When you first arrive in Canada from say Southeast Asia like me, paying the $850 per month in rent is very expensive. If you make the comparison, it’s like a luxury apartment in Colombo or the main city. Here it’s a one-bedroom basement. So that conversion of money can be a big burden at the beginning because you’re bringing some money from back home for living expenses for the first six months, which includes rental rates. 

Everyone is welcome at RBC Newcomer Meeting Place, and we mean it when we say ‘ask us anything’

Looking forward, we let the clients know that there are options even as a newcomer, perhaps to buy a house. It really depends on individual circumstances. We talk to clients about the Newcomers Program: where they can do a lump sum down payment even without having a credit history. So we do educate them based on their goals, what they can afford, and their employment situation. We always follow up in a few months to see how things are going and if we can help or provide advice. We can connect them with an RBC specialist who will give them even better advice to help them prepare. 

Like the advisor I met when I first arrived told me, we go by the motto ‘ask us anything.’ A client reached out to me the other morning and said, “Wanzi, I don’t know why but my nose is bleeding for the first time, and I don’t know if it’s normal or not. I keep asking people and they’re saying it’s normal.”

So I asked her, “Do you live in a basement? Do you have the heater in your room – without a humidifier?” She said, “Yes,” so I said, “Look, this happened to me as well, so this is what you’ve got to do.” 

As a newcomer, I have the experience. I know what it’s like. When I first landed my job, my spouse was having trouble finding employment. I saw his depression. So we all made sure that he got out of the house, perhaps go to the gym, the library, do some courses, just so that you’re not feeling cornered, or you’re not feeling alone at home. 

“If you give back to someone before you get anything from them, I think it is more memorable.”

If you’re in the neighbourhood, please drop by 

I always say to people who visit us at RBC Newcomer Meeting Place, “I know we had a one-to-one conversation, and I hope I answered some of your questions, but do remember that this is not the end of it. Please come visit us any time; connect with us through social media. Keep us posted on your next steps, because we want to be with you throughout your settlement journey, and help you achieve your personal and financial goals – to be the advisor that you can count on.