Kaingaroa woman Kaye Dragicevich saw red when she went to Kaitaia's ANZ Bank on Tuesday to deposit some cheques. And it wasn't because she was in overdraft.
There was a queue inside the bank, she said, and another in the foyer, where people waited to be admitted to the inner sanctum, and staff were struggling to cope.
"The bank has been closed to customers on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays since Covid-19 restrictions were lifted, and it's continued for weeks," she said.
"Now it appears that the powers that be have decided to keep to opening only two days a week. Loyal customers, young and old, have to manage at other times. On the the days they are open there is a very long wait in queues (often stretching out into the street: editor).
"This pitiful, non-existent customer service makes me very cross. I worked in this bank for 20 years, when customers were considered of the utmost importance; they came first. Well not any more. For years they have been moving to keeping their customers out of the banks – do your banking on the pavement, at money machines, or online.
"What happens to seniors who don't have a computer, who wouldn't understand where to start with one, who aren't able to stand in line at the bank for long periods, and are at risk standing at an ATM while they try to fathom out how it works? And if a malicious person should notice their dilemma and attack them for their money, or their card, where is the security?"
Some companies, and some banks, had already withdrawn cheques from their services, she added.
As of February 28, Kiwibank and NZ Post ceased accepting or issuing cheques, and as March 1, ACC and Inland Revenue ceased issuing or accepting them. In May the BNZ announced that it aimed to phase out cheques by July next year. In July this year the ANZ announced that it too would discontinue the use of cheques by the end of May 2021.
"Seniors are a generation who could do long division in their heads and who have adapted to enormous changes already," Dragicevich said.
"They have built up assets and savings, and have used cheques all their working lives. They are accustomed to paying by cheque as an independent way of controlling their money and paying their bills.
"This new regime has come with no consultation, and 20 years too early.
"I feel for my elderly friends, those who weren't brought up with computers, who mistrust them, and rightly so. There are so many scammers out there. Many can't manage a cell phone, let alone start on the complexities of a computer. This is cruelty to our elderly, to put them through what they will see as insurmountable obstacles to gain access to their money.
"Now is time to voice our concerns and tell our banks we are not happy about them removing our ability to pay by cheque. If you have an elderly relative, speak up for them. Silence is agreement. Don't let this happen. Write to your bank, phone your bank, write to your MP and voice your concerns."
Customers' needs have changed
The BNZ and Westpac claim that they have not restored their pre-Covid-19 lockdown hours in Kaitaia because customers' needs have changed.
A spokesman for Westpac NZ said Covid-19 had affected everyone in different ways, and the bank wished to want to thank its Far North customers, who had shown "real patience and understanding" as it had operated its branches through challenging circumstances over the past six months.
"The pandemic has changed customer behaviour in lots of ways, including how they do their banking," he added however.
"It has accelerated long-term trends, such as fewer people using branches and more phone, email, digital and self-serve options. Nationally, branch over-the-counter transactions have more than halved since September 2016, and more than 73 per cent of our customers are now active online.
"As well as in-branch services, our staff are working hard to provide phone outreach to local customers, answer general banking enquiries via email, and help customers farther afield who've been financially affected by Covid-19.
"Given the reduced demand, the current hours for transactional services at our Kaitaia branch remain unchanged, however we are available for customer appointments between the hours of 9am and 4.30pm Monday through Friday."
Ben Kelleher, managing director, retail and business banking ANZ New Zealand, apologised for any inconvenience that his bank's reduced hours in Kaitaia were causing.
We have a smart ATM available for deposits and withdrawals 24/7, and also a Fast Deposit box in the foyer, which is available from 9 am to 4.30pm, five days a week," he said.
"This means that our business customers can make both withdrawals and deposits during business hours. These are processed five days a week.
"In recent years customers have been steadily moving their banking online," he added.
"Over-the-counter transactions at branches have decreased 55 per cent since 2015, while customer payments via internet banking and our mobile banking app ANZ goMoney have increased 8000 per cent. This is in line with what's happening in nearly every market with a developed banking system worldwide.
"Covid-19 has dramatically hastened this process. As customers were advised to stay home, many of those who were not already doing so began banking online.
"We have seen over-the-counter branch transactions drop 30 per cent from pre-Covid levels, and the numbers show no sign of returning to previous levels.
"There are now 1.54 million customers who regularly do their banking on the internet, with ANZ goMoney or by phoning our contact centre. Such has become the demand that many branch staff throughout the country, including Kaitaia, are also helping customers to use these different ways of banking, and assisting customers who are experiencing financial hardship."
Two of Kaitaia's banks, the BNZ and ASB, have resumed pre-Covid-19 lockdown hours, both opening to customers from 9am to 4.30pm five days a week.
Kiwibank opens from 9am to 4pm Tuesday to Friday, Westpac from 10am to 2pm five days a week, and the ANZ from 9am to 4.30 pm Tuesdays and Thursdays.