The amount of unclaimed funds is steadily increasing
It’s more common than one might suspect for funds to go unclaimed in the business community, whether they be in the form of a forgotten credit union account or a million-dollar estate.
In fact, the millions of dollars that go unclaimed yearly in B.C. is steadily increasing, and it’s the task of the British Columbia Unclaimed Property Society (BCUPS), which was established in 2003, to reunite the monies with their rightful owners.
As one of only three such organizations in Canada (the other two provinces with unclaimed property programs are Alberta and Quebec), BCUPS currently lists $152.5 million in unclaimed funds, compared to $100 million in 2014. Even though BCUPS’ executive director, Alena Levitz (above), typically writes cheques in the $200 to $500 range, she points out that “it’s not uncommon to deal with substantial funds: right now our largest unclaimed account is an estate worth $1.9 million.”
BCUPS receives accounts from mandatory holders such as credit unions, debt collection agencies, real estate agencies, companies in liquidation, municipal and provincial courts and municipalities after they have made a reasonable effort to identify forgotten account holders (an account is considered to be dormant when no activity has transpired for a time ranging from one to 10 years, depending on the type of account). It also acts on behalf of voluntary holders, including trust funds, insurance policies, brokerage accounts, closed pension plans and other organizations.
Although BCUPS’s mandate seems straightforward—after all, it has access to several proprietary databases to locate potential owners—it has been challenged in the past by the fact that there was little incentive for voluntary holders to remit unclaimed property, unless they wanted to clean up their books. Also, many businesses were reluctant to admit they had dormant accounts stretching back for years.
However, the fact that the amount of forgotten funds directed to BCUPS has increased by more than 50 percent since 2014 indicates a growing awareness among companies and organizations of their regulatory obligation to remit unclaimed funds to the society, and Levitz cites the University of British Columbia as a prime example of an institution that proactively endeavoured to reunite owners with their money.
Specifically, a review of payroll operations in 2016 uncovered 15,000 paper cheques that employees had failed to pick up over the years before UBC implemented a direct-deposit payroll system. UBC initiated steps that would reunite employees with their cheques and when several thousand cheques remained unclaimed, it transferred them to the Employment Standards Branch, which in turn transferred them to BCUPS.
To help reunite owners with unclaimed funds, the BCUPS website contains a handy search database. “Any British Columbia resident can check if they have unclaimed money, and funds can then be claimed by completing a thorough verification process,” says Levitz. There is no limitation period to claim funds from BCUPS (some accounts date back to the 1880s), and there’s no cost for the society’s service.
Unsurprisingly, Levitz loves nothing better than to write cheques to account holders, and she and her colleagues enjoy the added satisfaction of transferring a portion of unclaimed funds every year to the Vancouver Foundation for charitable purposes (the society has transferred over $35.8 million since 2004).
“Very few provinces have a program like ours, so I would urge British Columbians to take advantage of it. You never know what good fortune you may come into,” says Levitz.