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Current as of 26/04/17 04:40PM NZST
Money Editor for NZ Herald

Small towns hit by bank branch closures

Residents of Ranfurly, Fairlie and Raglan will be left driving up to an hour to get to their nearest bank branch if Westpac closes it branches.
Residents of Ranfurly, Fairlie and Raglan will be left driving up to an hour to get to their nearest bank branch if Westpac closes it branches.

Three towns will be left with no full-service bank branches if Westpac goes ahead with a raft of planned closures.

Residents of Ranfurly and Fairlie will be left driving up to an hour to get to their nearest bank branch while people in Raglan will only have a limited service through Kiwibank if Westpac goes ahead with proposed branch shut-downs.

First Union says the bank is mulling over 19 branch closures throughout the country and communities are being given no say over what will happen.

Residents of Fairlie, near Timaru in the South Island, held a meeting earlier this week and Ranfurly residents will hold a community rally on Friday to protest at the potential closure of their local branch.

Tali Williams, national organiser finance for First Union, said residents would lose face to face contact with their bank if the branches were closed.

"It is a very sad thing."

While some transactions could be done online she said more complicated transactions like mortgages or investments still needed to be done face to face.

Williams said people were also reluctant to switch banks because of the costs involved and the loss of relationships built up over time with their local branch staff.

Amie Pont, who owns a shop in Ranfurly and is leading the rally by the local community, said the proposal by Westpac to close its local branch had come as a shock.

"As a community we feel we are entering into a growth phase. Tourism is growing...we've had a bit of disbelief."

Pont said the branch served not just the local Ranfurly community which had a population of around 800 people but 10 other communities.

The nearest bank branch would be an hour's drive away in Alexandria if Westpac closed the Ranfurly branch and there was no scheduled public transport to get there.

"A branch is really vital for our elderly."

Pont said internet banking was not an option for everyone and connecting to the internet was unreliable at times.

"Our connectivity is still not fail safe. They talk about using the internet but it is not actually an option for everybody."

Pont said closing the branch would have flow-on effects to other businesses as the supermarket and petrol station would likely want to restrict giving cash out to customers over the weekends because they wouldn't be able to top up quickly at the local branch on a Monday.

But economist Shamubeel Eaqub said branch closures were just the commercial reality for small shrinking towns if they did not have enough business to keep banks interested.

Eaqub it was tough for communities to hear that they were no longer valuable enough do business with.

He said it was not a new issue but people who lived in small communities had to face the reality that they may have to live off the grid with no access to a bank branch, post office or even sewer and water services.

In the past co-operatives and building societies had filled the gap but large banks were now becoming dominant.

"We have moved much more to large scale banks and they are very commercially driven."

A spokeswoman for Westpac said it had no further comment to make until feedback had been received, reviewed and decisions were made about the branches.

"At that point, staff and customers will be the first to know."

Branches that could be closed

Kamo, Whangarei; Broadway Avenue, Palmerston North; Bishopdale, Christchurch; Gardens, Dunedin; Waikanae; Carterton; Raglan; Ranfurly; Te Aroha; Fendalton Mall, Christchurch; Putaruru; Whangamata; Takaka; Stoke; Wainuiomata; Te Anau; Fairlie; Otorohanga; Cherrywood, Tauranga.

- NZ Herald

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