The Bank of Canada’s unclaimed balances database

An interesting, new and local spin on an old story came up recently in The Edmonton Journal that is worth considering under the records management lens.  The Bank of Canada unclaimed balances database is where Canadian bank accounts go when people forget about them, and is no longer much of a mystery to most Canadians.  Two reporters were given the difficult task of regurgitating facts about the inactive balances story in an appealing way; they decided to create the Journal’s own database of inactive accounts belonging to Edmontonians, and to reveal a couple of the narratives such a local perspective exposed.

I find this repurposing of old records rather fascinating.  It’s something I’ve noticed in other stories, such as the creators of the lost shows database in my entry about the LOC discovery of British teleplays.  It underlines the importance of good record-keeping; for instance, if not for the digging of the two Journal reporters and their unique approach, it’s likely that the human interest stories (such as the tragedy of the Qureshis and the Japanese Village owner’s modest windfall) would never have been known.

Another level of this story intrigues me.  How do inactive balances get transferred to the Bank of Canada?  The records from the bank or financial institution of origin must be moved to the Bank of Canada.  Are they purchased by the Bank of Canada for the amount of the balance?  I have not found any information about this particular detail.  And how long are the balances held?  The passing of bill C-37 in 2007 sets that period of time at 30 years [1].  But what about records prior to 2007?  Consulting the Bank of Canada’s FAQ, I can’t seem to find this information, although it does suggest older records are being maintained.  But from a records management perspective it is an important factor to consider.  In this case the records literally represent a dollar amount—is there any accounting for economic variances, such as inflation?  Over a 100 years (based on the FAQ, the oldest account in the database is from 1900), how much would the amount grow?  From what I understand, these are permanent records—they never get destroyed, the money handed over to the federal government.  There is also, clearly, a system in place so that people can reclaim their inactive accounts, as well as a system for managing these records on an ongoing basis; what kind of resources does that require?  How many balances get claimed over time?  Is it worth the expense?

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[1] If I were to continue researching this issue, Bill C-37 would be a likely place to start.

Bibliography

Wittmeier, B.  (2010, September 13) Unused fund reveals tragedy.  The Edmonton Journal. Retrieved September 26, 2010 from http://www.edmontonjournal.com/news/unclaimed-bank-accounts/Unused+fund+reveals+tragedy/3515861/story.html

Wittmeier, B and L. Timmons.  (2010, September 11) Found money just web search away.  The Edmonton Journal. Retrieved September 26, 2010 from http://www.edmontonjournal.com/business/Found+money+just+search+away/3510114/story.html

Unclaimed Bank Accounts Database. (n.d.) Retrieved September 26, 2010 from The Edmonton Journal: http://www.edmontonjournal.com/news/unclaimed-bank-accounts/index.html

Unclaimed balances (n.d.) Retrieved September 26, 2010 from Bank of Canada: http://ucbswww.bank-banque-canada.ca/scripts/search_english.cfm

Unclaimed balances – Frequently Asked Questions (n.d.) Retrieved September 26, 2010 from Bank of Canada: http://www.bank-banque-canada.ca/en/ucb/faq_unclaimed.html

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