6 Dec 2020

Loss of Geraldine bank: 'It's got me gobsmacked'

10:17 am on 6 December 2020

The owners of a retail business in Geraldine say they and others in small rural areas might struggle to provide customers with change in future.

Geraldine's BNZ is one of the 37 branches that is set to close.

Geraldine's BNZ is one of the 37 branches that is set to close. Photo: Google Maps

The Bank of New Zealand will shut the Geraldine branch, along with 37 others around the country by the middle of next year.

John Shirtcliff and his wife run the Kitchen Cupboard in Geraldine, and now face a one-and-a-half hour round-trip to Timaru to collect coins for customers needing change.

He said there was little regard for the needs of retail customers or their mainly older customers who still preferred to use cash for their transactions.

"It's got me gobsmacked. Imagine what would happen if my wife - running a shop, just refused to service customers with something they wanted or needed from her."

Shirtcliff said they could switch to one of the few remaining banks in the township, but he was not sure how much longer they would be around.

"There's a Westpac and an ANZ but who knows how long they'll stick around. It's a real problem for small towns."

Shirtcliff said he spent years working as an economic development consultant, and discovered there were distinct characteristics that small towns needed to survive and thrive.

"One of those is the presence of a bank."

It was a point raised recently by the mayor of Buller District, which was also losing BNZ branches. The exit from Reefton would leaves the town without any bank.

Jamie Cleine said it could be bad for a town's reputation to be without a mainstream banking service.

"If people are looking to invest, or start a new venture in town, it says something if a town has basic services, such as banks."

BNZ chief customer officer Paul Carter said about three quarters of its customers were increasingly choosing to do their banking online, or over the phone.

He said eight of its metro branches would close this month and 30 branches around the country would close over over 2021. The bank's remaining network of branches and partners centre locations across New Zealand would be supported by almost 400 Smart ATMs, three Mobile BNZ branches, a contact centre and digital and online services.

Shirtcliff said the banks were touting smart ATMs as the way of the future, and while they accepted coin deposits, they dispensed notes only.

"At the moment all we can get is people just parroting 'Smart ATM, Smart ATM' but they're not that bloody smart in my view."

He said it would have been prudent for the BNZ to await the outcome of a regional banking pilot scheme before taking such drastic action.

The pilot was being led by the New Zealand Bankers' Association and included six major banks which would test demand for basic banking services in regional communities.

It has just started in Twizel, Martinborough, and in Stoke - a suburb of Nelson. It would start in Ōpunake over the next couple of weeks.

Carter said the BNZ did not take the decision lightly.

He said the bank's mobile service worked well in the Manawatū-Whanganui and Northland regions by bringing banking services and financial support to remote communities.

"We will be adding additional vehicles to our fleet to enable more communities to receive financial support," he said.

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