Just coping after ‘kick in the guts’

Stuart HoreBen (6) and Ella (10) Gibson, of Ranfurly, protest against Westpac’s closure of the ...
Stuart HoreBen (6) and Ella (10) Gibson, of Ranfurly, protest against Westpac’s closure of the bank, at a rally in August last year. Photos: Peter McIntosh
The only bank in the Maniototo closed its doors a year ago this week.  Residents tell Lynda van Kempen the facility’s absence is a nuisance, but they are making do.

The vacant bank building in Ranfurly’s main street is a reminder of what was called "another kick in the guts" for rural New Zealand.

Despite strong lobbying by residents and community leaders, a 900-signature petition and a protest rally which attracted more then 300 people, the Westpac bank closed its Maniototo branch.

It was one of 19 branches Westpac closed last year, citing a decrease in "over-the-counter transactions" as a result of online and mobile banking.

However, unlike the majority of those branches,  the Maniototo bank was the only bank branch in the area.

The Central Otago Mayor at that time, Tony Lepper,  said the bank closing was "just another kick in the guts and makes it harder to live in rural New Zealand."One year on, and Maniototo people are grumbling but also getting on with business as usual, minus the bank.

The woman who headed the campaign to retain the facility, Ranfurly businesswoman Amie Pont, said it was gutting to lose the battle but the united approach paid some dividends.

Ranfurly’s last bank closed its doors in November last year.
Ranfurly’s last bank closed its doors in November last year.
"I truly believe if we hadn’t lobbied so hard, we wouldn’t necessarily have got an ATM machine. It was hard for us to lose the two bank staff but the impact on the community would’ve been even greater if we didn’t get an ATM.

"At the end of the day, we realise how important this bank facility was but what we have now is as good a replacement solution as we could possibly have."

There were some positives, Mrs Pont said. Having access to an ATM at any time of the day was a bonus, especially for sole traders.

The bank had been receptive to feedback about the measures it put in place after the bank closed.

For example, initially the ATM only stored $50 notes but now customers could choose to receive $10 or $20 notes.

Mrs Pont, who is also the Maniototo Business Group chairwoman, said the absence of a bank did not deter new businesses, and in fact four or five businesses had started up in the past year. The future for the district remained bright.

Maniototo Community Board chairman Robert Hazlett said the change mostly affected the elderly and businesspeople.

"It’s been fairly awkward without a bank, especially for pensioners as most of them don’t like going to money machines. They’d prefer to talk to a person about their banking but the nearest bank is an hour’s drive away, which isn’t easy for everyone to access.

"I know of a lady who helps the older folk who struggle with the money machine — and there’s a group of them. She goes out of her way to help them get money out."

A sign outside another Ranfurly store lobbies for the bank to remain open.
A sign outside another Ranfurly store lobbies for the bank to remain open.
Businesses were under pressure to have more cash in the till, to cater for the demand for cash, he said.

"What’s happened now is, the bank closure has taken away all the simplicity out of banking — it’s no longer a simple process."

Robert Graham is the third generation of his family to be involved in Graham Electrical, which has been based in Ranfurly for 60 years.

The bank closure was "a pain" and added time and complications to the banking process now, he said. At least the installation of an ATM meant a reasonable level of service could be maintained in the town.

He was aware of people who had followed through with threats to change banks as a result of  Westpac closing its Maniototo branch.

Maniototo Pharmacy co-owner and pharmacist, Alan Stuart, said trading had declined since the bank closed. He believed people now travelling  to Alexandra for banking were doing other shopping while they were there.

Maniototo residents battled hard to retain the bank and certainly showed a united front, Mr Stuart said.

"So I guess it is annoying it closed, but it’s just part of life."

Getting change was one of the real problems for Maniototo retailers now as most customers paid by eftpos. 

While he, like other shop-owners, dished out small amounts of cash to customers, "locals understand the problem, so they don’t push for it," he said.

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