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New Zealand's "big six'' banks have welcomed a trial banking hub to provide banking services in communities which would otherwise go without.
In what is considered an industry first, the competing banks will trial the new approach with pilot hubs established in Twizel in the Mackenzie Country, Opunake in South Taranaki, Martinborough in the Wairarapa and Stoke in Tasman for 12 months, with the first opening by early 2020.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson announced the trial following Cabinet's meeting yesterday.
The hubs will provide basic transactional services, such as cash withdrawals, deposits and account transfers, and will all have a multi-branded Smart ATM, online banking facilities and a support person to provide guidance and assistance.
Kiwibank, BNZ, TSB, ANZ, ASB and Westpac will participate in the pilot and have agreed not to close branches outside the six main urban centres, with the exception of co-located Kiwibank/NZ Post premises.
According to KPMG's financial institutions survey, 44 branches across all six banks were closed during 2018, going from 1024 branches in 2017 to 980 last year.
New Zealand Bankers' Association (NZBA) chief executive Roger Beaumont said while banking innovation and technology had brought benefits and convenience to customers, small town communities could still feel left behind when physical branches closed.
"While many people hardly ever visit bank branches, some people still prefer to bank face to face. Banks want to help those customers by using innovative ideas and technology.''
Mr Beaumont said each banking hub pilot would test different ways of adapting to community demand and requirements and services would evolve over time.
He said the NZBA would establish partnerships with local organisations or use existing bank infrastructure branches to host the hubs.
For example, the hubs in Opunake and Twizel will be based in each town's one remaining bank branch.
For the purposes of the pilot, regional branches are defined as those outside the city council boundaries of the six main urban centres: Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.
Mr Beaumont said the point of the hubs was to test demand for a multi-brand approach in small communities.
"So we won't second-guess the community response to the pilots or what that means for our next steps.''