The Government will look at concerns raised by regional development minister Shane Jones about the big Australian-owned banks pulling out of rural New Zealand.

Jones, who has already had run-ins with Air New Zealand and The Warehouse for their treatment of regional New Zealand, has hit out at the banks.

He said that the return on capital the Australian banks made in New Zealand was usurious and saw their New Zealand arms exporting $5 billion in profits.

Those profits had grown by 75 per cent over the last 10 years while at the same time banks were shutting down branches in rural New Zealand, Jones said.


"I don't think you can enjoy the right to profit without having an obligation to maintain an extensive level of service."

Jones said New Zealand was seeing a shift in more silver-haired people living in the regions and bank branch closures were "making life harder for small business owners and contributing to urban drift."

"It is quite treacherous territory for an MP to criticise the banks - we all owe money. But I don't think I should be muzzled."

He said if the Australian owned banks wanted to "enjoy the fruits" of owning these operations they should also have to accept responsibility as well.

Jones said he would talk to Reserve Bank governor about whether a provision of service could be included as part of bank licensing.

A spokeswoman for finance minister Grant Roberson, whose mandate includes the Reserve Bank, said Jones had raised an issue that was important to some in rural communities.

"Minister Jones has raised an issue important to some in rural communities that we will have a look at."

Jones' view has been backed by the bank workers' union which has been vocal in criticising branch closure in recent years.

Stephen Parry, national finance sector organiser for First Union, said: "The major banks are increasingly reducing their branch network, particularly in rural areas.

"Over the last two years alone we have seen nearly 50 branch closures across ANZ, BNZ and Westpac. There has also been a trend towards reducing staffing levels and opening hours, most recently at BNZ."

Parry said the banks justified the closures on the grounds that consumers were increasingly doing their banking online and over the phone.

But its members reported that they were as busy as ever.

"In reality, many banking activities require face-to-face interaction, and many consumers are uncomfortable or unable to do their banking online."

"Meanwhile, the major banks make astronomical profits every year."

Parry said it had seen nothing to suggest that the branch network was not profitable or viable, yet the banks continued to closes branches or cut hours at the expense of frontline bank workers and consumers.

New Zealand Bankers' Association acting chief executive Antony Buick-Constable said New Zealanders were choosing to use branches less.

"In the past five years about 70 per cent fewer people have been using branches nationwide.

"The average customer now uses online, mobile or phone banking once or twice a day and visits a branch once or twice a year."

Buick-Constable said customers were choosing to use smart ATMs, phone, internet and smartphone apps to do their banking.

"They're voting with their feet and that's why some branches have been closed or had reduced hours. Banks are like all other retail businesses if most customers choose not to walk in the door."

He said banks had spent hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years installing and upgrading digital technology, internet and phone banking.

"That's in response to changing customer demand for 24/7 banking services.

"This flexibility means most people don't have to travel to do their banking, and they don't have to get to the branch before it shuts at 4.30 from Monday to Friday. This has made life easier for many customers."