Mayor underestimated need for physical branch

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 25: A general view of the Westpac bank on January 25, 2016 in Sydney, Australia.

Vikram Chopra has filed a multi million dollar lawsuit against Westpac for claims of Descrimination and his promotion as financial planner was overturned by his manager Kristen Greber who believed some of the banks clients did not want to work with a person of Indian descent

PHOTOGRAPH BY Amer Ghazzal / Barcroft Media

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The Mayor of a small South Island town has admitted she didn't realise how badly locals wanted to keep the doors of the last bank branch open.

Westpac has announced plans to close its Fairlie branch, one of 19 mostly rural locations it's abandoning. The final decision's not expected until the end of September, so residents will protest outside the bank at 1pm on Friday in an effort to change the bank's mind.

Mackenzie District Mayor Claire Barlow has been banking with Westpac since she was 17, and now does most of it online.

"People like me won't go into a branch, and I was quite casual about this whole affair until I went to a meeting on Monday and realised there's a whole generation of people in New Zealand, particularly in the rural centres, that don't use the internet," she told Paul Henry on Friday.

Fairlie had only 717 people at the last census, nearly a quarter of them over the age of 65.

"They don't have computers, they don't do online banking."

Westpac is the last bank in the town. If it closes, residents will have to drive to Timaru, 50 minutes away, or Geraldine - 35 minutes.

"Maybe there's an alternative service they can provide that is viable for them and actually works for the people," says Ms Barlow.

The bank is yet to discuss the situation with her.

"I have spoken to the local bank manager but they couldn't talk to me because they were going through staff consultation until Wednesday this week, so no, I'm still waiting to have a conversation."

She admits not everyone in the town uses Westpac, and the bank can't be forced to keep the branch open if it's not commercially viable, but thinks it has a "duty of care" after so many years.

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