26 Aug 2016

Elderly face 180km journey if bank closes

7:00 pm on 26 August 2016

Several rural towns facing the prospect of losing their local Westpac bank have warned the elderly will suffer the most from the closures.

The Australian-owned bank is considering closing 19 branches across the country, many of them in remote areas where there are no other banks nearby.

Protests are taking place outside branches in Waikanae on the Kāpiti Coast, Ranfurly in Central Otago and Fairlie in the Mackenzie Country this afternoon.

Waikanae locals concerned at proposed Westpac closure

Waikanae locals concerned at proposed Westpac closure Photo: RNZ / YouTube

Central Otago District mayor Tony Lepper said if Westpac's Ranfurly branch closed it would be 180km round trip to the next-closest bank.

Mr Lepper said that was a trip many elderly could not make, especially in winter as the roads in the area were icy and treacherous.

"To them, the thought of driving to do their banking, they just can't even consider it really,"

He said the local bank was an important place for the community.

"A bank is more than that to them, it's somewhere to go, it's someone to talk to, it's the heart of their town to be honest."

About two hundred residents in Fairlie in the Mackenzie District turned out to protest the proposed closure of their only bank, despite persistent rain.

MacKenzie District mayor Claire Barlow said the next closest bank for those wanting to deposit cheques or cash is 60km away in Timaru.

She said many elderly residents did not even have computers, making online banking impossible.

Protests are taking place as Westpac considers closing 19 branches across the country.

Fairlie resident Gwen Patton takes part in the protest in the town. Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

She said despite claims to the contrary, small town New Zealand was thriving and should be given a fair go by the banks.

Five Waikato communities, including Te Aroha, face possible bank branch closures.

Matamata-Piako District mayor Jan Barnes said the internet connection in Te Aroha was not reliable, and made online banking hard.

"If we are having services being lost on one hand, we definitely need to get that internet speed up and running."

Protests are taking place as Westpac considers closing 19 branches across the country.

Protests are taking place as Westpac considers closing 19 branches across the country. Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

Westpac is expected to decide at the end of September which branches it will close.

New Zealand Post Group chief executive Brian Roche said its banking arm of the group, Kiwibank, had been watching the restructuring with some interest.

He said he could not rule out changes to Kiwibank's services.

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs