Maniototo community rallies to fight to retain town's only bank

Maniototo businesswoman Amie Pont talks at a public meeting about the proposed closure of Westpac in Ranfurly.
Jan McKenzie

Maniototo businesswoman Amie Pont talks at a public meeting about the proposed closure of Westpac in Ranfurly.

It's not just the South Island town of Fairlie trying to keep its bank. The residents of Ranfurly are also angry.

Westpac is like a "cat on a hot tin roof" over the proposed closure of its Ranfurly branch, Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean said at a public meeting last week.

The meeting was also attended by Central Otago mayor Tony Lepper, councillor Stu Duncan and over 100 community members.

Central Otago councillor Stu Duncan, mayor Tony Lepper, Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean and Maniototo businesswoman Amie Pont ...
Jan McKenzie

Central Otago councillor Stu Duncan, mayor Tony Lepper, Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean and Maniototo businesswoman Amie Pont with over 100 community members who attended a public meeting to voice concern at the proposed closure of Westpac in Ranfurly.

Westpac announced this month 19 branches were due to close. Decisions on the closures were expected by the end of September.

"I have had Westpac phoning me three times already...They are a little bit like a cat on a hat tin roof and so they should be. We are going to put up a fight with this. This is a community which is not only very stable and supportive but the population is growing.

"There are a lot of influences coming in that shows me you are a community not slipping and sliding. It is very important if we are going to support farming, industries and tourism coming in to town we have got facilities and that includes things like banking."

The best way to make an impact on Westpac was to put a strong case for the retention of services.

"We have got to tell them why. We have to tell them there will be impacts on farming, business and business in the main street."

Mayor Tony Lepper said the council was prepared to lobby at a national level to see if "they really do have a rural heart".

"The council will join the list of people who are disappointed that Westpac who are making millions of dollars out of rural New Zealand are abandoning a town 90km from the nearest bank. We are happy to talk with them about alternatives but the best solution is a branch in Ranfurly."

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"Work could be diverted from other branches to keep staff productive. We will lobby Westpac on this issue. We will try and get to the bottom of the business case they have used for the closure to see if there is an alternative. I will lobby at national level to see if they really do have a rural heart."

Lepper said he was moved by the passion of those who viewed a bank as an essential service and that Westpac was not honouring their own charter that talked about supporting communities.

"Everyone there said they would no longer support Westpac if they were forced to have a 160km round trip to do their banking. One lady said if they got a cheque for $50 they may as well rip it up as it would cost more to bank than it was worth."

Maniototo businesswoman Amie Pont told the crowd the bank had offered "no real justification" for shutting the bank.

"It is a bank that is actually very viable...It is corporate streamlining as far as I can see it. From the 19 banks on the list (the bank is proposing to close) there are only two that will lose their only bank in town so I think if there is a chance, we are at the top of that list and I think that is really important."

Four Square owner Michelle Grundy, who spoke at the meeting, said the losing the bank would give people another reason to shop out of the town.

"Our business community has made a real effort to encourage people to shop locally ... we are trying to get people to stay here and spend money here and banking gives them a reason to go to town so to speak."

The bank had an opportunity to capitalise on the growing tourism industry, being the only bank in town, she said.

"It's just frustrating they can't see that and see there is an opportunity for them here."

The community was also concerned about the impact of cash circulation in town, particularly for people trying to fundraise.

"When people are trying to fundraise and do things like raffle nights, cake stalls, if there is going to be a reduction in cash circulating in the community, it is those people who will miss out."

The internet was also unreliable which made internet banking challenging, and there was no ATM in the town, she said. 

A protest is to be held outside the bank on Friday at 1pm.

 - Stuff

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