Reflecting on More Than a Decade at BCUPS
After more than a decade as Executive Director of the BC Unclaimed Property Society (BCUPS), Alena Levitz has accepted a new position as Executive Director of the Vancouver-based Lotte and John Hecht Memorial Foundation, which supports innovative medical research, economic education, the relief of poverty and heritage preservation.
During her tenure with BCUPS, Alena oversaw the recovery of more than $50 million in unclaimed assets from businesses and organizations and returned more than $10 million in forgotten funds to the rightful owners, while streamlining office policies and procedures significantly reducing the administrative burden on individuals seeking to claim funds.
Alena first became familiar with BCUPS while working as a lawyer in the Estate Administration Department of the Public Guardian and Trustee of BC. “We would send unadministered estates to BCUPS after exhausting all avenues to locate the heirs,” she said. “I thought BCUPS’s mandate was interesting and the complexity of issues they dealt with were intriguing.”
She joined BCUPS as Executive Director in 2011, a move that complemented her two professional interests of wills & estate law and privacy.
Over the last ten years, Alena worked diligently to raise the public profile of BCUPS. She increased staffing levels and bolstered the Society’s IT capacity and online security making BC’s dormant asset program more responsive to the needs of British Columbians.
“BC was extremely innovative in setting up the BCUPS business model in 2003 when no other provinces were addressing dormant assets in a meaningful way,” she said. BC is the only jurisdiction in North America where a percentage of unclaimed funds under administration are designated for charitable purposes. “BCUPS is now looked upon as an industry leader because we’ve been doing this for a long time and doing it well.”
During her time at BCUPS, Alena has seen several provinces and countries emulate BCUPS’s business model. Among her career highlights is participating in the International Symposium on Utilizing Dormant Accounts for Social Issues in Tokyo, Japan in 2019. Shortly afterward, Japan introduced its own dormant asset program.
In Canada, four provinces now have unclaimed property programs in place – BC, Alberta, Quebec, and most recently New Brunswick.
Alena would like to see every Canadian province introduce a dormant asset program, rather than the “Swiss cheese approach” that’s in place now.
“Without a central dormant asset organization in place, it’s difficult for members of the public to find unclaimed funds, particularly the elderly, people who don’t speak English or those who are not computer literate. As a result, these people often fall prey to online fraud lured by websites that offer to reunite you with your unclaimed funds for a fee.
She believes that BCUPS could become more impactful with some legislative support for expanding asset classes designated as unclaimed property, which would reunite more people with their forgotten funds and increase the amount available to be transferred to charity each year to fund social programs.
“Using dormant assets to fund social programs makes perfect sense,” she says. “It helps government support communities without having to raise taxes, which is a win-win for everyone.”