It is not unusual for financial institutions in Taiwan to allocate a small portion of their annual earnings to charity, helping financially disadvantaged groups and fulfilling part of their corporate and social responsibility.
However, an increasing number of these institutions, along with their employees, have begun to take actions that go beyond handing out cash or checks to help others and, in return, finding a sense of fulfillment that money cannot buy. These include assisting the blind, counseling young victims of natural catastrophes and tutoring children from low-income families when their parents work extra night shifts.
In October, Chinatrust Financial Holding Co’s (中信金控) charity foundation arranged a seven-day tour in Taiwan for 39 children from Sichuan, China — scene of the 7.9-magnitude earthquake that killed thousands last year. Seventy workers from the bank volunteered to show the kids around during the trip.
“They looked so happy everyday and wherever we took them to,” said Joanne Chen (陳瓊琪), a manager at Chinatrust’s charity foundation.
“We were so moved when some of them told us they had a hard time believing that people so far away would be willing to spend time on them,” she said.
The foundation, established in 2004, has recruited 1,700 volunteers, a majority of whom are bank employees. These people spend their holidays assisting children in remote areas with their homework and, sometimes, helping them learn English.
Tiffany Chen (陳淑芬), who works for American Express International Inc in Taipei, is also involved in volunteer work. Chen has joined her colleagues in taking turns to help elementary-school children from single families with their homework.
In support of this program, American Express allows volunteers to take special leave after 4:30pm so they can help the schoolchildren, aged under 10, between 5pm and 6pm every weekday.
Some 60 employees of the bank’s 300-member staff have signed up for the program, Chen said.
They treat these children like their own kids, Chen said.
“Many of us have kids of our own and understand how difficult it would be for the breadwinner from single-parent families to cope with work and taking care of the kids at the same time,” Chen said.
Chen said she enjoyed her time with these kids and found being a good teacher challenging.
“Although they are elementary students, some of their math and social science homework is so hard that, sometimes, I find that I’m not much help,” she laughed.
Doing volunteer work an hour a day has helped Chen realize the advantages that many people take for granted while others live in want.
Amber Chung (鐘珽琪), who works for Standard Chartered Bank (Taiwan) Ltd (渣打銀行) in Taipei, said she felt blessed with the opportunity to help the blind and others.
Standard Chartered gives employees a two-day leave each year to take part in the bank’s charity programs, helping the visually impaired or working as AIDS ambassadors to educate the public.
Chung once joined her colleagues to handcraft a special globe made of different types of materials so that kids from blind families could feel, with their hands, the size of the US, for example, or the geographic location of Taiwan.
“I was very glad to be able to help them out, although I felt like I was only making a small contribution to society,” Chung said.
The global financial crisis, which started out as a credit crisis in the US, has sent shock waves around the globe, with investments plunging and job losses mounting. Some financial institutions are working to help others by sharing their financial expertise.
Citibank Taiwan (台灣花旗), for instance, has since 2004 arranged forums for students from elementary schools to colleges to expand their financial knowledge.
The bank has employed different — sometimes unconventional — methods to attract young people to join their financial programs, including game-playing or online competitions for wealth management proposals.
Maxine Yang (楊淑娟), a public relations official at the bank, found the bank’s program rewarding after 200,000 people once signed up for some of the bank-sponsored activities.
“Some people didn’t even know they must pay for revolving interest if they didn’t pay back their credit-card payments in full,” Yang said, recalling how surprised she was at the response of some participants at the bank’s financial literacy program.
In a nutshell, many more have ignored the power of saving little by little and the importance of disciplined spending, she said.
For the first time, Yang said, she understood how she could use her financial expertise not only to make a living but also to help others.
It is undeniable that charity work or helping others is sometimes just a business strategy for some companies. But there are also many who have shown their dedication by being actively involved, willingly giving their time and showing their care.
After all, “it’s easier to give money than time,” said Greg Gibb, chief operations officer at Taishin Financial Holding Co (台新金控), whose employees gave a hand to local rice farmers in Changhua County and orange farmers in Yunlin County to ride out the difficult economic season last year.
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