Closure of rural banks sparks calls for more 'rural proofing'

Kiwibank recently proposed closing seven branches, many in rural areas.
Kiwibank recently proposed closing seven branches, many in rural areas. Photo credit: Getty

There are calls for more rural impact analysis to be carried out before cuts are made to services that affect those in less populated parts of the country.

It comes after Kiwibank last week announced it planned to close seven branches - many of which are in rural areas - over the next 12 months.

Rural Women New Zealand (RWNZ) says such closures hurt many people living in the countryside.

"It's that continuing loss of services right across the spectrum in rural New Zealand," says national president of RWNZ Gill Naylor.

"We do feel strongly that there needs to be rural proofing or rural impact analysis done on any services looking at being taken away or any policies being put in place," Naylor told Magic Talk's Rural Today on Wednesday. 

Kiwibank said the branch closures - slated for Balclutha, Gisborne, The Palms (Christchurch), Matamata, Onehunga, Waihi, and Waipukurau - came as a response to more customers doing their banking online.

In announcing the proposed closures last week the bank's chief executive Steve Jurkovich said the average bank customer visited a branch just one or two times a year, and visits to some branches had more than halved over the past five years.

He said he appreciated the proposed changes would create uncertainty for many people, and the bank would be offering affected customers support to understand and use internet and telephone banking.

But Naylor says for many living rurally moving online is not always possible.

Many people are of an age where using computers is a challenge and others who are capable face issues with patchy internet, she said.

"They need to have good connectivity - and that's quality connectivity - and also have an understanding of how to use the internet and cell phones."

She added that anyone facing transportation difficulties would also struggle if they had to travel further away to banks in more populated centres, in some cases a considerable distance.

Last year a group of banks, including Kiwibank, announced a trial to share regional banking hubs as a compromise for rural residents.

Naylor said such a solution could work, "but there needs to be some serious thought into how they're set up".

She said many such hubs lacked spaces for private or more in-depth conversations to take place, which was a "real concern".