‘A kick in the guts’
A proposal by Kiwibank to close its only branch in Gisborne is being labelled as a “kick in the guts”.
The state-owned bank said it was facing a rapid shift in customer preferences as more customers move online, and that it would first consult with the local community regarding proposed closure.
But Tairawhiti Technology Trust treasurer Maurice Alford says, “It's a kick in the guts for the already disenfranchised.”
“From our experience working with older people transitioning to the digital world, they're like foreigners,” said Mr Alford.
“It's not like they can just jump in the car and go somewhere else.”
The bank says over the past five years over-the-counter transactions have steadily declined.
When The Herald visited for a photo there yesterday afternoon, customers were coming and going in a steady stream.
Mr Alford said it was unacceptable for a bank owned by the New Zealand government to close in the region.
“The main Aussie banks still have a presence here and then there's Kiwibank thinking about not supporting our region, it sends the message that we are irrelevant and unimportant.”
Kiwibank revealed the closures — seven are flagged — in a statement announcing its half-year result, in which net profit rose $4 million to $55 million for the six months to December 2020.
It says it is responding to customers' direction.
“For every 1000 transactions/activities at Kiwibank, 977 are now digital, 15 are via ATM, five are in-branch and three are through our contact centre,” the bank said in a statement to The Herald.
“We are mindful this proposal may create uncertainty for some. We have informed our people in the branch and we are now contacting community groups seeking feedback.
“There are 3.5 fulltime equivalent roles in our Gisborne branch and we're working through options with the team, including the possibility of redeployment.
“We appreciate the proposed changes can create uncertainty for our people, our customers, and communities and that's why there is a period of time so we can make fully informed decisions,” said the statement.
That window to give feedback is small.
After announcing the possible closures yesterday, the bank said it would accept feedback until March 12, two weeks from today, and that a final decision would be made by the end of March.
The media release with the proposed branch closures was titled “Kiwibank focused on delivering better outcomes for customers.”
But rather than doing this, Mr Alford says the bank is pressuring older people into situations where they are likely to interact with scams and unsafe situations.
“With all the scams and stuff going around the people who are not computer literate are going to be at even more risk of the dangers online.
“They (the bank) would effectively be creating an issue where inexperienced users would be forced online unaware of many of the scams and hackers on the internet.
“Is that fair?”
The bank says it has partnered with Stepping UP and DORA, both digital training providers, to teach people about using online banking.
However, the team from Tairawhiti Technology Trust say if there is going to be a transition to online banking it needs to be gradual rather than a clean cut that leaves many severed from financial society.
East Coast Labour MP Kiri Allan says the proposal is gutting. “It is disappointing whenever a bank says they are thinking of pulling out of a region, removing an essential service,” she said. “The reality is in a place like ours there are problems with digital connectivity for those with difficult socio-economic circumstances.” Ms Allan said she would be making her voice heard by the bank and advocating for the branch to stay open.