New Zealand's major banks have cut branch numbers in the wake of the Covid-19 lockdown and many other branches remain on reduced hours, frustrating some customers who find they now only have a small window to do their banking in person.
Figures supplied to the New Zealand Herald show between them ANZ, ASB, BNZ and Westpac have permanently closed 32 branches since March 26, when New Zealand went into a strict alert level 4 lockdown.
The four major banks now have 548 branches between them.
And despite New Zealand moving to alert level 1 some branches are still only open for two or three days a week or limited hours.
Banks say the closures are because of declining numbers of people using branches and doing their banking online.
David Tripe, Massey University's head of banking, said the Covid-19 lockdown had hastened the decline of bank branches.
"I said a number of years ago by 2035 we would be down to 50 branches per bank and it may happen sooner now."
He said the lockdown period had shown the banks people could cope without branches being open all the time and many people had switched to using phone or internet banking.
Tripe said many of the other services banks provided - like giving change to retailers and other small businesses - could be done by others.
Some retailers have complained in the past that bank closures made it hard for them to bank their takings.
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Under lockdown, some retailers also stopped taking cash because of health concerns.
Tripe said most shops wouldn't have much in the way of cash to bank as more and more transactions were being done electronically.
But Jessica Wilson, head of research at Consumer New Zealand, said many people still relied on going into a branch.
"It is a cause for frustration when customers find reduced hours, branches closing, particularly for people in rural areas."
Wilson said there were still people who weren't comfortable with doing their banking online.
"They still want to be able to access branch services when they need them."
Wilson said although the latest closures were in city centres they could have a significant impact on those customers who had to travel further to access their bank.
"For some customers, if they are going to have to be travelling the extra distance, it may be they have to rely on public transport, it can be really frustrating."
Wilson said closing branches meant banks would be saving money and they should be putting that into supporting customers who might not be familiar with online banking, and making those service more accessible.
"And where they are charging fees for those services they need to look at reducing them or getting rid of them entirely."
ANZ NZ managing director retail and business banking Ben Kelleher said since March 26 it had made the difficult decision to close a number of urban branches.
Those nine branches included four in Auckland, its Lambton Quay branch in Wellington, Mt Maunganui, two in Christchurch and one in Hamilton East. It was also in consultation over whether to close its Otago University branch.
"In the majority of cases where a branch is closing, another ANZ branch is nearby (some as close as 100m but most within 5km) and we have an extensive network of mobile mortgage managers who visit customers where and when it suits them."
Kelleher said in recent years customers had been steadily moving their banking online and Covid-19 had dramatically hastened the process.
"As customers were advised to stay home, many of those who had not already done 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."
Kelleher said it now had 1.54 million customers who regularly did their banking on the internet and such was the demand that many branch staff had been redeployed to help customers using the different ways of banking and to assist customers who were experiencing financial hardship.
No staff members had lost their jobs as a result of the branch closures.
Kelleher said under alert level 1 it had been gradually resuming its branch service balancing customer demand and staff availability.
It currently had 54 branches on reduced hours.
"We will let our customers know if and when there are any permanent changes to branch hours and we apologise for any inconvenience this may cause."
A BNZ spokesman said it consulted with its staff in May on some changes across its metro branch network and seven branches did not re-open after lockdown ended - two in Christchurch, four in Auckland and one in Wellington.
"We continually review the footprint of our branch network to best meet the needs of our customers, and these branches had seen significant declining usage as digital or other nearby branches within a 10 minute drive were used instead. Affected staff were offered roles in other parts of the business."
Its Matamata branch remained shut because of issues with the building's earthquake strength rating, which was discovered during lockdown, and it was looking for a new location to relocate to.
The spokesman said it had reopened all its branches as usual when alert level 2 began.
A spokesman for Westpac said it had decided to close seven staffed locations since March 26 - two in Auckland and Canterbury and one each in Wellington, Tauranga and Invercargill.
"We have closed one of these branches because the building does not meet our earthquake standards. The other changes are due to an increasing number of Westpac customers choosing to do their banking on their computer or mobile device."
He said two of the sites would remain open as "smart stations", which were open 24 hours a day with Smart ATMs and cash exchange facilities.
"We are consulting with our team at an additional location about a proposed closure but no decisions have been made. There have been no redundancies as a result of any of these changes."
Westpac's Auckland Airport branch remains shut while the rest of its 143 branches are on reduced hours and days with 10 branches opening just two days a week and 50 opening three days a week.
"We have noticed a change in the way our customers are banking since coming out of lockdown, with many people preferring to bank remotely. Our current hours are intended to provide service across the variety of channels that customers are using and are under continued review."
ASB also announced earlier this week it was not reopening nine branches and a further 25 would open three days a week.
Craig Sims, general manager retail banking at the ASB, said changes were being made as a result of the ongoing move to digital banking as well as growth in customers using its digital channels during the Covid-19 lockdown.
"Kiwis' expectations of their bank are changing. In the past five years for example, at ASB we've seen a 42 per cent decline in branch transactions, and now 85 per cent of our personal customers prefer the convenience of our online and mobile services. Add to that, since lockdown in March around 13,500 customers have used our digital channels for the first time to do their banking and they're continuing to do so."