The buck doesn’t stop here anymore

The phenomenon of bank closures is becoming a common occurrence in many small Canadian towns.  Here in Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing we are no different.  The trend to other forms of banking such as what is available online may have appeal for some people, but not everyone is comfortable with the option or able to bank in that manner.  While there are other methods available to individuals, the question of whether they should be forced to accept these alternatives is one that a lot of Canadians in small towns are asking.

Hard statistics on how many banks are leaving or have left small towns are difficult to pin down, but anecdotal evidence and page after page of web search results confirm the trend.   What often happens next is that people are asked to travel to another town if they want to continue being served in person.  Face to face banking is the preferred method for elderly people and the population in the north is skewed to that demographic.   These older Canadians are also the most leery of conducting any business online and may not even have the technological capacity to undertake banking in that manner.

What is true is that online banking is a solution that appeals most to the young urban population who will still have the option of walking into a bricks and mortar branch.  That irony is anything but delightful, especially for people being denied that opportunity in their own town.  Asking people to travel to another town to bank amounts to asking them to be exposed to more danger on the roads. 

People also worry that the loss of their bank will lead to loss of other businesses in their town.  They see the migration of bank customers to nearby towns as a slippery slope toward greater economic instability. Banks tell us that online banking has reduced the need for as many locations and that low interest rates mean they aren’t making as much money from loans.  This is argued despite the fact that banks continue to post record profits year after year.

Where they are making money is from fees and this is where the closures start to come across as mean.  In many instances they are telling people who would like to move their business to other nearby banks they will not waive their fees for doing so.  The message to the consumer is that the bank can alter the arrangement without penalty, but the customer cannot.

That begs the question, when is a deal no longer a deal? Does a bank picking up and leaving your town still retain the right to force a customer to live up to their end of an agreement?  The banks say it does, but that’s a position that doesn’t seem right to the customers who are being forced to bank in a way they never anticipated when they entered into these agreements. 

As stated already, most elderly customers are really only comfortable banking in person.  Many others in small towns may lack the cell signals or broadband connectivity that is necessary to bank online.   In a lot of these instances the banks that are leaving our small towns have been there for decades and in some cases for over a hundred years.   They were a part of the town’s identity and their departure is seen as hanging a question mark over the economic vitality of the area. Instead of exploring creative solutions such as reduced hours, they are just picking up and leaving.  Forcing people to remain as customers after that kind of treatment shows a lack of compassion and comes across as nothing less than cruel.