Digital dilemma for bank branch users

Age Concern Tauranga general manager Tanya Smith says the banks closing will be huge strain for some people. Photo: John Borren.

With the last remaining banks closing in Mount Maunganui and Greerton town centres, people who are not digitally connected are being advised to do so before it’s too late.

Bank of New Zealand has announced it will close these branches on December 24 and the Katikati branch will close between February and March next year.

Age Concern Tauranga general manager Tanya Smith says some people who use these banks are going to struggle to get to branch now, especially if they’re not confident drivers, have health issues or have difficulty using public transport.

She’s concerned for those people who don’t have the internet or smart devices and have always relied on cash or cheques.

Her advice is to get to a branch now and talk to staff about the options available like setting up direct debits for bills and getting Eftpos cards.

“Start having conversations, don't leave it until the banks have closed, until cheques have stopped being used.  Educate yourself now, find out what's available.”

Tanya recommends taking a family member or someone that has enduring power of attorney if people aren’t confident going alone. 

Phone banking can be hard for hearing impaired people and remembering pins can also be a problem for those with memory difficulties, says Tanya.

Banks are often a place of social connection for the older community so that is being lost as well, she says.

Tauranga and Western Bay of Plenty Grey Power president Jennifer Custins says people often have a longstanding relationship with bank staff that will be lost when branches close.

“It’s that isolation we’re more worried about rather than the mechanics of whether somebody can learn to use the internet or not.”

She recommends people learn to use internet banking if they can and replace their trip to the bank with another outing to keep themselves connected and emotionally and mentally healthy.

About 800 people have used the Greerton branch and 500 the Mount Maunganui branch more than once in the last six months, says a BNZ spokesperson.

He says the customers connected to those branches have high digital enablement - at 74 per cent for Greerton and 79 per cent for Mount Maunganui.

 

When the branches close a Smart ATM will remain in both centres that will be able to do traditional over-the-counter transactions like deposits and withdrawals.

BNZ will also hold digital banking sessions that customers can book in for and there is an over 50s phone line that is helping older people get familiar with phone banking as well, says the spokesperson.

BNZ will close 38 branches nationally over the next year and chief customer officer Paul Carter says COVID-19 has accelerated the trend of people using digital services or banking over the phone.

He says around three quarters of their customers are digitally active.

Paul says historical ways of banking like cash and cheque transactions have fallen significantly and the majority of transactions conducted in BNZ’s branches have moved to their Smart ATMs and online.

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