29 Feb 2024

Closure of five ASB branches sparks concern for older customers

9:00 pm on 29 February 2024

Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Five ASB Bank branches have been closed down, leaving customers concerned about the impact on their communities.

Banks in the Auckland suburbs of Māngere Bridge, Milford, Wellsford and Waiuku, and on Willis Street in Wellington, closed on Thursday as more and more banking services head online.

All of those branches had seen decreases in customer numbers of between 83 percent and 92 percent in recent years.

While many in Māngere Bridge admitted it had been a while since they last used the local bank, they were still sad to see it go.

"I think people should still be able to go to a local bank if they've got something that can't be done on a machine," one local said.

"It's an aging population here in Māngere Bridge so they're not online and things like that," another said.

Some felt the bank had put profits over the needs of the communities it served.

Others said it would be tough for older people in the area who might not be savvy with internet banking or apps.

"A lot of older people do not know how to get into it," one resident said.

Age Concern Auckland chief executive Kevin Lamb agreed.

"For older people, the trip to [a bank] branch was part of their week, it was part of their connection."

The switch to online banking could also place people in situations where they risked being taken advantage of, Lamb said.

"We know there's an increasing number of people out there who are targeting older people for that very reason, they think they're a potentially an easy victim to scams and fraud online."

But ultimately, people would need to move with the times and the closure of more bank branches was inevitable, he said.

Age Concern worked with the banks to help older people understand online banking, but it did not happen overnight, Lamb said.

"What is needed is there needs to be time, there needs to be the ability to say 'this is happening in the future and we're going to work with you to make those changes'."

The Dyslexia Foundation was also concerned about what banks closing would mean for the people it represented.

Chairperson Guy Pope-Mayell said in a statement that face-to-face interaction was a critical lifeline for neurodiverse thinkers.

Individuals with dyslexia and other neurodiversities tended to find internet banking highly stressful, as they feared putting in the wrong information or pressing the wrong buttons, he said.

Despite some frustrations, Māngere Bridge residents said they would have to get by without their local bank: "The whole world's becoming more online."

In a statement, ASB's executive general manager of personal banking Adam Boyd said the branches that were closing on Thursday had seen steadily decreasing numbers of customers over the past five years.

He said one of the quietest branches saw only 14 people through the door each day on average.

ASB was investing in areas where it saw customer demand, such as digital and phone banking, and was putting extra customer support staff into its busier branches, Boyd said.

Closing a branch was not a straightforward decision and ASB was committed to supporting customers who were disapointed by the news, he said.

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