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Current as of 02/12/16 07:39PM NZST
Retail, Innovation and Manufacturing reporter for the NZ Herald

Westpac confirms 19 branches to close around New Zealand

Westpac has confirmed it is closing 19 of its branches across New Zealand with all closures expected in early November.

The bank said in a statement that it acknowledged the quality of submissions and feedback from staff and communities, and would be discussing ideas from the submissions with community leaders.

"It is anticipated branches impacted will close in early November, however supporting customers through the change is a priority," it said.

Impacted branches are: Kamo, Raglan, Otorohanga, Putaruru, Te Aroha, Cherrywood, Whangamata, Broadway Ave, Wainuiomata, Waikanae, Carterton, Takaka, Stoke, Fendalton Mall, Bishopdale, Gardens, Fairlie, Ranfurly and Te Anau.

First Union national organisor Tali Williams said the announcement was disappointing.

"We weren't expecting that many to close - there was such a strong community response against the closures that we were really hopeful that Westpac would have amended the proposals perhaps to reduced days or hours, but to close it entirely is a very big deal for those communities and those workers."

Williams said closures would likely affect between 60 and 70 staff. Westpac met with staff this afternoon and it is understood the consultation process on redeployment or redundancy will begin from tomorrow.

"They would have only just heard about half an hour ago so a lot of them will be feeling deeply distressed and talking with families and with each other about what their future may hold," Williams said.

"Our role now is supporting these people and making sure they can sort out new futures for themselves and their families."

Westpac said the changing way in which customers were banking and the rise in online transactions was behind its proposals.

"Customers ... expect 24/7 access to their banking - currently more than 85 per cent of service transactions take place outside of a branch," Westpac said.

"Over the last five years, online transactions increased by 61 per cent and in the last year online logins via a mobile device have increased by 33 per cent."

Communities have been frustrated with the lack of consultation with them on the closures - many of which are in rural towns - and marches and meetings have been held around the country.

Westpac's move has been compounded by the ANZ which last week revealed it was considering up to five branches closures including Te Aroha and Otorohanga which are on Westpac's closure list.

Shaun O'Neil, chairman of the Te Aroha business association which plans to hold a meeting tomorrow night to discuss the issues, said it was disappointing that banks were pulling out of the town given it was a growing region.

"Banks need to support our growth not try and slow it down."

He said Te Aroha was a wealthy community which the bank had benefited from and it should front up and be a good corporate citizen.

"They should be investing in towns."

O'Neil said from a personal perspective the closure would be more of a nuisance than anything but it would also hit the community in terms of sport team sponsorship.

Sharon Holt, who owns a business which publishes children's books in Te Reo Maori, said she moved to Te Aroha in December from Hamilton and the fact the town had a Westpac branch was a factor she took into account.

Holt said many of her customers still paid by cheque and a branch closure would mean a 20 minute drive to Morrinsville to bank them.

She said changing banks was an even bigger hassle as it would involve having to tell all her customers about a change in bank account details.

"That is an incredibly huge mission."

Holt said a lot of people were moving into smaller towns like Te Aroha after selling their house and making a profit.

While people in Te Aroha and Otorohanga face both Westpac and the ANZ pulling out they will still have other bank branches in town.

Two South Island towns - Ranfurly and Fairlie - will be left with no bank branches and a drive of up to an hour to get to the nearest one when its Westpac branches close.

Mackenzie District Mayor Claire Barlow said she was disappointed by the decision, which will see the small rural community of Fairlie without any bank branches.

Despite protests and petitions from the community, the bank had made a commercial decision to close its Fairlie branch, she said.

However, she said Westpac appeared willing to work with the community as it pulled out of the town.

"They have considered the particular areas that the community would be impacted," she said, and would be leaving the ATM in the town.

"Secondly they will be setting up a deposit solution for businesses dealing in cash, because that was a big concern, and they will fine tune the details of that over conversations with their regional manager coming up.

"They are going to provide a computer somewhere where the public can access online banking for those people who don't have computers at home. Because that was one of our concerns, we've got a large number of people in the community who don't use computers, so they're not au fait with that kind of technology.

"They're providing an 0800 number to assist people to make the transition from face-to-face branch banking to either telephone or online banking. They're also providing one full-time-equivalent staff member to travel to Fairlie and some of the other areas that have been affected by the closures to educate customers on how they can do their banking online or by phone."

The bank was prepared to talk and fine tune those services to suit the community, she said.

"From my perspective as a mayor I'm disappointed. We're going to have some staff members who will lose their jobs and in a town as small as ours that's a big thing. As far as customers are concerned, change is difficult but at least Westpac hasn't just shut the doors and walked away, and for that I appreciate it. But there will be some very disappointed people in the community.

The closest bank branches for Fairlie's Westpac customers would be a 25 minute drive to Geraldine, or a 45 minute drive to Timaru, which Barlow said would be the most likely option for people as it was a safer journey.

"I think one the of biggest concerns is that if people are going to go to Timaru for their banking, then they'll probably do their shopping there as well and it might affect local business," she said.

"We'll just have to see how that plays out because if Westpac are prepared to come into town and actually help and assist with services, and people aren't required to go to Timaru then the outcome will be a bit different."

The community was resilient she said, but "if Westpac are prepared to come to the party and people take up their offer to assist them make that transition" then it could work out.

- NZ Herald

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