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Yesterday the Australian-owned bank announced it would close eight metro and 30 regional branches nationwide by the end of June next year.
Southern branches affected include Mosgiel, Balclutha, Cromwell, Winton, Geraldine and Waimate.
The move reverses BNZ’s pledge to retain its branch network unchanged until at least 2022, which it made in June last year.
Customers and officials contacted by the Otago Daily Times yesterday reacted to the announcement with shock and anger.
Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan said he believed the move was driven by pursuit of profit.
"The incessant drive to increase profits by the overseas banks totally overlooks their duties to provide acceptable levels of service.
"For the elderly and those that find themselves in a financially challenging situation, this change now creates further difficulties for them to contend with."
Mosgiel-Taieri Community Board chairwoman Joy Davis said the timing of the Mosgiel closure on Christmas Eve was "terrible" for staff and customers alike.
"It’s extremely disappointing. Mosgiel has a significant elderly population, many of whom are not tech-savvy and rely on face-to-face banking.
"BNZ is saying three-quarters of customers are online now. I’d like to see the breakdown of local figures for somewhere like Mosgiel. Perhaps it would have been useful to have some local consultation before the decision was made."
Some customers visiting the Balclutha BNZ branch early yesterday afternoon were unaware of the planned closure.
On discovering the Balclutha branch would close by June 2021, Health 2000 employee Debi Chittock expressed shock.
"Well that’s no good. I’m also part of the local pottery club, and we do our banking here too. I suppose we’ll have to consider changing now."
She said the closure reflected a gradual reduction in banking options across South Otago, affecting businesses requiring branch services, and the elderly and vulnerable unable to go online.
"It’s frustrating. It always seems to be about capital, not people."
BNZ chief customer officer Paul Carter said it was breaking its pledge on regional branch closures due to the effects of Covid-19 on customer banking behaviour.
An increase in customer demand for digital services, accelerated by the pandemic lockdown, combined with new modes of working for staff, had led the bank to review its position, he said.
Mr Carter said the changes were part of a wider review of all BNZ sites to "consolidate its workforce".
Branches would support customers to adopt "alternative ways of banking" during the period before closures occurred, he said.