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Banking-alternatives call after branch closure announcments


Uncertainty surrounding banking services across the Wimmera and Western District has sparked discussions about trialling an approach in operation in New Zealand.

Member for Lowan Emma Kealy said bank branch closures represented a major problem in regional areas and there was need for a solution to help people left feeling financially vulnerable.

She said districts with a high percentage of elderly people unfamiliar and uncomfortable with or lacking confidence in making online transactions were at most risk.

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“There is a Banking Hubs trial underway in New Zealand, which involves a unique partnership between a collective of New Zealand banks providing basic on-location services,” she said.

“This might provide a template for a regional Victorian pilot here in Lowan. 

“Whinging and going crook about bank closures is one thing, the reality is that we need a solution. This might only represent a small offering, but at least it’s something that might work.”

The New Zealand hub system involves a collaborative banks approach in providing basic banking services in regional communities. 

Hubs include a ‘Smart’ automatic teller machine, ATM, a support staff member or members and technological support. Each banking hub is designed to meet the needs of individual communities, providing different capabilities and services.

Ms Kealy said while broad sections of the overall community had welcomed and adapted to online banking and billing services, physical banking remained the only way some members of the community could or would operate.

“While advances in digital technology have opened up a new playing field for general banking, there are people who have maintained a resolute faith in the idea of only banking in their home towns or districts,” she said.

“Many are at an age where they have no interest in or ability to navigate computers, digital tablets or smart phones, at least without physical human help. 

“Considering the contribution this generation has made to society, when it comes to the security of their money, they shouldn’t really be forced to try to navigate something in which they lack confidence – especially when alternatives might be available.”

Ms Kealy added that cash transactions remained a critical part of trading in both day-to-day business and community life.

“Regional businesses and community organisations, like any others that have various ways to trade, need to be able to have cash floats and to physically be able to take money to and from banks daily,” she said.

“This is a crucial aspect of banking in the regions that is often overlooked.

“Security is critical and we don’t want a situation where people are hoarding cash until they can make a trip to a larger centre to do their banking.

“Of course the other danger is that people stop using banks altogether and hide their money in a mattress or a bury it in a tin box in the garden – disasters waiting to happen.”

Ms Kealy said any investigation by the banking sector, such as exploring and assessing results from the New Zealand trial or other ideas would be welcome.

“Closing bank branches in country towns without providing consideration to people who rely on physical interaction to communicate their banking can hit hard,” she said.

“Banks can’t expect loyalty from country members when they don’t try to support them in keeping in touch with their money or to help them transition to a technology-based banking.”

The entire May 5, 2021 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!