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Perhaps it’s inevitable, a sign of “progress and change”, but we read this morning with disappointment of a report that Canadian towns could see a number of bank branch closures as customers shift away from entering local branches for everyday banking.

“As all the banks look at their retail banking footprint in small town Canada, I think you will see some branch closures from a retail banking perspective,” said Brian Porter CEO of the Bank of Nova Scotia recently at a Women in Wealth management conference in Toronto. “We are going through that as an institution now and there are other ways to serve customers.”

In response to the report in the Globe and Mail, some commented that credit unions might be able to take up the slack. Others, however, mentioned that online banking, the probable replacement of local bank branches, requires a reasonable speed and reasonably priced internet connection which is not available in all rural areas at this moment.

More significant and fundamental, though, is the issue of these closures human terms.

While these changes are defensible business decisions in that they will likely maximize efficiencies for the banking industry, they, nonetheless, could have a profound impact not just on those banking but communities as well.

The article correctly spoke of the possible impact on ” the residents of smaller towns, who continue to see the bank branch as a central place for social interaction”.

And in this world of increased online banking, not all have been able to embrace the new technology. For example, what about elderly people and others who are not able to deal with the every changing and constantly confusing technology ? For these folks, the bank branches are necessary.

As one online poster commented, “Whilst I do most banking online I would not use PC banking or in because when I need it I want to del with a live banker. I switched to a credit union for that reason….Even small town folks need to talk to live bankers once in a while, closing branches will again hit the elderly and disabled the most”.)

While it is not the job of banks to be architects of social engineering, we note their traditional vital role in the social fabric of the community (In fact, for decades many have advertised themselves in this way). As much as the supermarket, pharmacy, barber shop or Tim Hortons’, banks were often foundational members of the community. This is poised to change.

So, as we note the likely passing of one era, one wonders just how this sense of “community” will be replaced to meet this time of “progress and change”.

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