30 Aug 2018

Rural residents back Shane Jones’ call to keep banks open

7:51 pm on 30 August 2018

Shane Jones has the backing of rural communities to change banking licenses, forcing banks to retain a rural presence.

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Photo: RNZ

The Minister for Regional Economic Development said he will talk to the Reserve Bank governor about the possibility of making changes to the licenses, because he believes banks are putting their profits ahead of the responsibilities to rural areas.

Brothers John and Karam Haddad, who run Haddad's Menswear in Ōtorohanga since 1965, couldn't agree more.

They had been the face of a television commercial for ANZ, the theme of which was that without small businesses, such as their small town clothing store, there would not be big business.

In 2016, a couple of years after the advertisement aired, ANZ closed their Ōtorohanga branch.

"We were devastated, absolutely devastated," John said.

"Still to this day, nearly two years later, we're still not over it because we felt like, looking back on it, we were part of a fraud," he said.

"Now I realise that, no, I should never have been part of [the advertisement]."

In the past two years, nearly 50 Australian-owned banks have closed. Westpac, ANZ and BNZ have all shut branches.

ANZ said in a statement that it continued to have a large presence in rural New Zealand, and "provide more banking options to customers than ever before".

"Like elsewhere in the New Zealand, people in rural areas are choosing to use branches less. The average ANZ customer now uses online, mobile or phone banking 1-2 times a day and visits a branch 1-2 times a year," the statement read.

"From the end of 2010 to the end of 2017, the number of people going into branches has declined by 68 percent as New Zealanders have chosen to use smart ATMs, phone, internet and our GoMoney smartphone app to do their banking.

"Customers are voting with their feet and that's why some branches have been closed or had reduced hours. We're like all other retail businesses, if most customers choose not to walk in the door."

Westpac and ASB declined to comment.

However, Taupō's Mayor David Trewavas does not agree with what ANZ has said.

The bank is proposing to close their Turangi branch, and Mr Trewavas is not buying calls from banks that a fall in customers can be an excuse.

"The reason [they say] is there's an eight percent decline in transactional sales," he said.

"For a bank that's made $1.7 billion, posted last year, surely a slight decline in transactions wouldn't make a drop in the ocean to them.

"If you get a slight decline, you don't pull stumps and just go away. We've been loyal to this bank for 50 years.

Asking for loyalty is one thing, but Mr Jones is prepared to go a step further in trying to retain a rural presence from banks.

He said he would be discussing whether changes could be made with the Reserve Bank governor before taking the proposal to his cabinet colleagues.

"The reality is that the Aussie banks - the Aussies own our banks - they take, in my view, a skinflint approach," Mr Jones said.

"Their profits over the last 10 years have grown by 75 percent.

"I do believe, with that level of profit, they have an obligation to maintain an extensive level of service, not just at the centre of profit."

The New Zealand Banker's Association said people were using branches less, hence there were closures around the country.

"Banks have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years installing and upgrading digital technology, internet and phone banking," it said in a statement.

"That's in response to changing customer demand for 24/7 banking services.

"This flexibility means most people don't have to travel to do their banking, and they don't have to get to the branch before it shuts at 4.30pm from Monday to Friday. This has made life easier for many customers."

Mr Trewavas feared for some members of the Turangi community - like elderly people who relied on their bank for social interactions - who woudl not be heading online to do their banking.

Now they would have to travel to Taupō.

Australian-owned banks are not the only ones shutting branches across the country.

In July, four post shops and their adjoining KiwiBanks were set to be closed in Dunedin, while another branch will be closed in Te Puke.