Communities demand Government inquiry into rural bank closures

Leaders from more than 30 rural and provincial communities are calling for a Government inquiry into the social and economic impact of bank closures.

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Among them is South Wairarapa Mayor Alex Beijen, who says businesses and older Kiwis still need physical branches to bank. Source: 1 NEWS

South Wairarapa District Mayor Alex Beijen delivered the petition to the Minister of Finance Grant Robertson today.

Last year, the Government launched four regional banking hubs in Martinborough, Opunake, Stoke and Twizel in response to banks shutting down individual branches.

Today, at the hub in Martinborough, South Wairarapa locals expressed frustration with the trial.

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Dozens of mayors say the banks should be forced to provide services to small communities. Source: 1 NEWS

Kitchener’s Café owner Bruce Sullivan described it as “nonsense” and "just a PR stunt".

“They don’t accomplish anything. Old people can’t use them — you can’t get change,” Sullivan said.

The ATM, the central facility at the hub, showed an "out of order" display on the screen today.

Out of order ATM at a Martinborough regional banking hub. Source: 1 NEWS

Sullivan said it was a 40-minute drive to the nearest bank in Masterton.

“Getting change for the business is incredibly hard. We have to travel long distances to get change,” he said.

Robertson declined an interview, but in a statement to 1 NEWS said his “initial response is to talk to the New Zealand Bankers Association about whether the banking hub trail can be expanded in light of the fact that the original commitment was to halt closures during the trial, which has been overtaken by Covid”.

In a statement to 1 NEWS, New Zealand Bankers’ Association chief executive Roger Beaumont said: “Branches are closing in some regional communities due to lack of demand.

“These changes are occurring because customers are banking differently – they can go online, call their bank or use an app,” Beaumont said.

South Wairarapa District Mayor Alex Beijen said the districts are losing out.

South Wairarapa District Mayor Alex Beijen delivers a petition to Finance Minister Grant Robertson calling for a Government inquiry into the social and economic impact of bank closures. Source: 1 NEWS

“Even though everyone says you should be using digital, it’s not appropriate for some rural places which still don’t have good internet,” Beijen said.

National’s Finance spokesperson Andrew Bayly shared those same concerns.

“It’s absolutely essential that rural communities, people living in small towns and farmers have access to good banking services,” Bayly said.

While calling for an inquiry, rural and provincial mayors hope it will spur the Government towards further action.

“What we’re trying to do is make sure the Government is aware of the problem and start to actively look for a solution,” Beijen said.