13 Jul 2015

Ruatoria bank to be withdrawn

7:22 pm on 13 July 2015

Campaigners that tried to keep the last bank in the East Coat town of Ruatoria open say residents are devastated by the news it is to close.

Ruatoria residents with a petition signed by hundreds of people demanding the only bank in town stays open. Their campaign has the support of Gisborne District Councillor Bill Burdett (far right).

Residents with a petition signed by hundreds of people demanding the only bank in town stays open. Their campaign has the support of Gisborne District Councillor Bill Burdett (far right). Photo: Supplied

In a statement, Westpac confirmed that three staff will lose their jobs and says retaining the branch is not a viable option.

It says it is in discussions about installing an ATM and deposit box as an alternative.

The bank itself is the only branch north of Gisborne and efforts to keep it open garnered support from the Gisborne District Council, First Union and local iwi.

Campaigners said people would have to travel at least 150 kilometres to get to the nearest bank in the rohe and people have limited access to do internet banking.

The East Cape and the Ruatoria township, which has a population of about 750, is the maximum 10 on the deprivation index, meaning it is one of the most poverty-stricken areas in New Zealand.

One of the leaders of the campaign to keep the bank open says people have been shafted by the bank.

Manu Caddie said he believed that despite Westpac managers saying they had an open mind, that was never the case.

"In some ways it was not unexpected. I met with National retail banking manager Simon Power and regional manager Dave Seymour last week [Wednesday] and we had a good conversation, but it was clear then that while they said they had open minds, the decision was made quite a while ago.

"We think it was pre-determined and this has been a front by and large.

"They hadn't really explored alternative options, they hadn't looked at ideas such as giving us six months until the end of the year to demonstrate that there is community support.

"People have said they would shift business to keep the branch open as a community benefit.

"Westpac hasn't looked at other premises in the town so they haven't done much in the way of looking at options and all they want to do is leave an ATM and that's what they've decided to do."

Manu Caddie believed Westpac was only following proper procedure in seeking feedback, but was not actually interested in it.

"They had to go through the motions in terms of their employment obligations, but they really don't want to have a branch in Ruatoria or anywhere else on the coast and that was their plan from the start."

He said the families of those that have lost their jobs will now have very low motivation and morale in turning up to work and helping Westpac make the transition.

Mr Caddie said there was a lot of upset and anger and campaigners are asking customers around the country to consider shifting their accounts from Westpac to New Zealand-owned banks which he said have a bit more accountability and commitment to New Zealand businesses.

"Our marae will [change banks from Westpac] and I'm sure some of the kohanga, schools and farms will be looking at other options as well. They've been loyal to Westpac because Westpac's been loyal to the coast and that loyalty's been thrown back in their face.

"I hope the well paid bank executives can sleep well in their swanky mansions. Leaving a couple of machines to replace three skilled staff is an insult, not only to the staff but the whole community.

"Considering the bank made nearly four billion dollars profit in the first half of the year, this decision is appalling.

"The East Coast is resilient and while the Government and multinational corporations see little value investing in the Coast - we will continue backing ourselves and rely less on outsiders to help us."

Mr Caddie said campaigners would look at trying to set up a local bank for the town.

Westpac said in a statement that it will also work over the next few weeks to assist customers to better understand the various options that will become available, particularly around the use of online banking.

The branch will close on September 4.