Mayor weighs in on closure of Kiwibank
Gisborne mayor Rehette Stoltz says banks must consider more than just economics when it comes to closing branches.
Access to an ATM does not address “the social harm and problems” caused by closing branches that support rural and provincial communities and economies, Mayor Stoltz said.
It's a view backed by more than 30 mayors around the country who have written to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern calling for the government to intervene.
The letter, signed by Mayor Stoltz along with mayors from the Far North to Southland, urged the government to set up a formal inquiry into the impact of New Zealand banks closing branches in rural and provincial communities.
It comes as Kiwibank last week announced plans to close seven branches, including Gisborne, over the next year in a response to more customers moving online to do their banking.
The Bank of New Zealand in November last year announced its plans to close 38 branches. Gisborne was not affected.
Mayor Stoltz said Kiwibank's plans were of “great concern”.
“I know that this proposal will cause upset especially among our older residents as they value the face-to-face service and might also not be tech-savvy enough to navigate their way via internet banking and the Kiwibank app.
“We also need to remember that some members of our society are not able to use phone or internet technology and need banking assistance.
“Our community needs and deserves to be serviced by our only state-owned bank in a fit-for-purpose way — face-to-face, phone, internet and via an app.
“Kiwibank will need to consider more than just its economic reasons,” she said.
“If the Prime Minister agrees to an inquiry and the inquiry highlights these negative impacts, the Government should require that all major commercial banks operating in New Zealand — as part of their licence to operate — be required to provide a level of service that redresses these issues,” Mayor Stoltz said.
Kiwibank announced the proposed branch closures at the same time as its half-year result which saw its net profit rise $4m to $55m for the six months to December 2020.
A Kiwibank spokesperson said for every 1000 transactions/activities at Kiwibank, 977 are digital, 15 are via ATM, five are in-branch and three are through their contact centre.
“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,” the spokesperson said.
There are 3.5 fulltime equivalent roles at the Gisborne branch and they were working through options with the team, including the possibility of redeployment.
Tairawhiti Technology Trust treasurer Maurice Alford last week said it was 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,” Mr Alford said.