By Peter de Graaf
Kerikeri is set to lose its Kiwibank in three months.
The decision comes as overseas-owned banks pull out of many Northland towns, though in this case it's not the bank itself packing up but the agent walking away.
Books on Hobson owner Kevin Francis, who owns the PostShop and Kiwibank franchise in Kerikeri, said changes in the way NZ Post and Kiwibank operated meant an already- marginal service would no longer be viable.
Postal services would continue at the Hobson Ave bookshop but unless Kiwibank could find another agent in Kerikeri, banking customers would have to travel to Kaikohe, Paihia or Kawakawa for services that couldn't be provided via an ATM.
Francis said when Kiwibank was set up under the wing of NZ Post the two businesses used the same computer systems.
Customers could do their banking and postage at the same counter without queuing twice or staff having to switch between terminals.
Although Kiwibank remains majority owned by NZ Post, it is being split off from its parent company with separate franchise agreements for each.
Crunch time will come in August when NZ Post sets up separate counter and computer systems.
Francis said agencies such as his would need two sets of computers, tills, floats and audits, though Kiwibank had backed away from insisting on separate lines for post and banking customers.
''Already we don't get any revenue out of it. It's not a profit maker, we do it as a service to the community. For what they're asking us to do, it simply doesn't add up.''
Francis said he had discussed the changes with other franchise holders around the country. Agencies in Alexandra and Cromwell, in Central Otago, would close at the end of this month.
He had proposed that Kiwibank lease counter space at the bookshop and put their own staff into Kerikeri, but even at minimum wage that would cost the bank considerably more than the present arrangement.
Francis said he was concerned for Kiwibank customers, especially those who didn't have internet access so online banking wasn't an option.
Unless Kiwibank could find another agent in Kerikeri, those customers would have to drive to Paihia, Kawakawa or Kaikohe for transactions that couldn't be done at an ATM.
Paihia's Kiwibank agent was based in a bookshop while Kawakawa's was in the Four Square. Kaikohe had the only full-service branch in the Mid North — customers already had to go there to open accounts or set up term deposits — but it was open only part time.
Kiwibank spokeswoman Kara Tait said service agents had been notified recently about technology upgrades and the need to manage cash separately.
''We acknowledge this change creates extra work for host businesses so we've increased our remuneration to reflect that. Although the vast majority of our host businesses have chosen to continue, a handful, including the operator of Kerikeri, have taken the opportunity to review their contracts and have decided to exit,'' she said.
The bank was looking for an alternative host but understood agents' decisions needed to make business sense.
Once changes were confirmed Kiwibank customers would be contacted about dates and banking options.
Tait said Kiwibank was the only bank in New Zealand that used agents to deliver limited banking services where it didn't have branches.
So far Kerikeri, with its rapidly growing population, has largely avoided the bank closures that have plagued many Northland towns.
Tourist hub Paihia no longer has a bank — the ASB shut down in March — and Westpac even pulled out its ATM. Russell's last bank pulled out in 2013.
The closures are a worry for business owners who have to hold on to cash takings longer and drive 50km return or more to bank them.
They also come amid record profits for some overseas-owned banks.
Westpac NZ's earnings for the six months to March 31, for example, were up 14 per cent on last year to $709 million.
ASB's 2020 profit dropped 20 per cent compared with 2019 but was still $967m.