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Another bank closes

The BNZ Martinborough branch is closing down, after opening in the town in 1907. PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER

 

By Hayley Gastmeier

[email protected]

 

Martinborough residents and business owners say the loss of the town’s BNZ bank is a blow to the community.

After servicing South Wairarapa for more than 100 years, BNZ Martinborough branch will shut its doors for the last time at 4.30pm on Friday, May 19.

Two staff will be affected by the closure, which will mean customers spanning to the coast will have to travel to either Carterton or Masterton for face-to-face banking.

Customers who do not drive or use internet banking, including elderly, will be hit hardest by the decision.

A “decline in transactions” and “changing customer needs” have been cited as the reasons behind the closure of the Cambridge Rd store.

The only other bank in Martinborough is an ANZ, but there is a Kiwi Bank in both Featherston and Greytown.

A BNZ ATM will remain at 3 Kitchener St.

Martinborough’s Josie Bidwill has been with the branch for 23 years.

“Everyone is saying Wairarapa is the fastest growing regional area in New Zealand, so why are the banks going, I just don’t get it.”

In November last year, 19 Westpac branches closed nationwide, including in Carterton.

Miss Bidwill said with limited services and a “marginal” transport system in Martinborough, many town residents may now battle to get their banking done.

“It’s super annoying really because now it’s quite a trek [to the other BNZ branches].

“It’s going to be terrible for the oldies, and it’s annoying for the businesses that want to bank cash, get change, or organise international money transfers.”

Miss Bidwill, creator of Thunderpants, said many businesses were becoming “centralised and corporatised”, which was “really sad”.

South Wairarapa District Council banks with BNZ, with chief executive Paul Crimp saying “it’s another service gone in a small country town”.

“I guess it’s a purely economic decision made by the bank, and it’s a shame.”

He said the closure would “cause significant disruption for a lot of people”.

BNZ retail regional manager Ange McHardy said changing customer needs had led to the decision to close the Martinborough store permanently –  a decision that was not “made lightly”.

“Since we reduced the store opening hours in Martinborough eight months ago in August, there has been a significant further decline in transactions.”

She said the business would now be concentrating on their in-store banking services at BNZ Carterton.

“When we opted to reduce hours last year rather than close BNZ Martinborough it was a borderline decision, which we’ve since had to reconsider due to the continuing decline in demand.”

Ms McHardy said the Martinborough team had done a “great job” in helping customers adjust to the new hours.

“However, our customers are increasingly choosing BNZ’s digital banking channels to fulfil their everyday banking needs and the continuing decline in demand for in-store banking services at the Martinborough store reflects this fact.”

She said the banking world was changing rapidly, with 89 per cent of BNZ transactions made using digital channels.

BNZ was working with the two affected staff in Martinborough on redeployment and redundancy options.

The bank said its Martinborough store opened in 1907, and it did not have plans to close any other of its Wairarapa stores “at this time”.

The branch moved to its existing site from its position on the corner of The Square in 2013.

 

‘It’s a shame’

BNZ customer Marta Wijcikowski was “annoyed and saddened” by the news.

“The town’s growing, there’s more people coming through, so it’s a shame,” she said.

“In the last few years there’s been shops opening up but the banks are leaving.”

She said although she didn’t go into the branch weekly, she used it on a regular basis.

Carolyn Irwin, who also banks with BNZ, said it would be disappointing to see the branch go, as “their staff are so lovely”.

Neighbourhood Coffee owner Dudley-Anne Hill said she knew business owners in Greytown and Featherston who banked at BNZ Martinborough while picking up supplies in the town.

She said with new businesses and growing families, Martinborough was flourishing which “warranted keeping our banks here”.

Tom Bunny said the closure was “really sad” for the township, especially for elderly people who may “struggle” getting to grips with internet banking.

“We’re ANZ customers, and we’re just wondering how long they’ll last now,” Mr Bunny said.

 

Closure limits options for elderly 

News that BNZ Martinborough is to permanently close will pose challenges for the towns aging population.

Many residents of Wharekaka Rest Home bank with the branch, which has been servicing the community since 1907.

Wharekaka manager Corlette Doherty said some residents were independent and able to walk to the branch to do their own banking – but with the closure their options would be limited.

“We have residents that don’t drive, and a lot of them are not computer savvy because they haven’t grown up with that generation.”

She said older people may find it hard getting to grips with the technology that would enable them to use internet banking.

Martinborough’s limited public transport was also a sticking point for older citizens.

“It’s going to be difficult because we have one bus service out of the town that they can catch mid-morning.

“If they don’t drive they’ll have to rely on family or other friends to take them to the bank.”

Ms Doherty said losing the “personal touch” was by far the biggest downside to the closure.

“That’s the biggy, a lot of our residents have built up a good rapport with the staff of the bank.”

Wharekaka also banked with BNZ Martinborough.

“We’re going to miss that connection we have with the staff, and being able to pop in to receive that wonderful service they provide.”

 

Still banking, but differently

Banks are “not putting a sinking lid” on their branches, but it is likely New Zealand will see “a general reduction” in the foreseeable future.

That is according to banking expert Claire Matthews, of Massey University, who was “surprised” to learn BNZ still had a branch in Martinborough.

Banks began consolidating their branches in the 1990s, she said.

“Since that time they have continued to look at them and carefully consider where they have them.”

She said the reality was that branches were expensive to run, and few people had visited a branch in the last six months.

“The banks have this problem where we as customers want the branches there, but they are a significant cost and we are not actually using them, which is a waste of resource for the banks.

“They need to continue to look at their branches to see where they really need them, because a lot of the services they provide don’t need to be provided by a branch and can be provided online.”

Dr Matthews said even though NZ could expect more closures, there would also be new bank branches opening in locations deemed more viable than in the past – as a result of a shifting population.

That would likely mean new branches in Auckland, as opposed to Wairarapa.

New Zealand Bankers’ Association chief executive Karen Scott-Howman said the way people banked had “changed hugely” in recent years.

“We’re no longer confined to “bankers’ hours” from Monday to Friday.

“We now take 24/7 banking for granted.”

She said “only a fraction” of banking transactions were done in branches these days.

“This means some branches no longer make commercial sense.

“They’re often replaced with smart ATMs that can accept and count notes and coins, which are instantly available as cleared funds in your account.”

 

 

2 COMMENTS

  1. The mortgage payment interest of only a couple of dozen locals would pay for this place to stay open? surly they will lose more than that by closing this branch?

  2. Just wondering what with the BNZ branch closing if the BNZ ATM on Kitchener Street will be upgraded to a Smart ATM?

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