Westpac proposes to close Stoke branch

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Westpac Stoke could be facing closure by the end of the year – but several Nelson organisations are rallying to save it.

The branch is just one of 19 across the country that was earmarked for closure last week. The Takaka branch is also on the chopping block.

The bank, located in Putaitai St, is used frequently by elderly customers, who prefer to have face to face contact.

If it closed, it would mean they would have to travel to either Nelson or Richmond to do their banking. If the Takaka branch were to close, bankers would have to travel to Motueka for services.

First Union Nelson organiser Rachel Boyack says they will be fighting to keep both banks in the region.

“It is stressing for the workers, but also the customers too,” she says. “The staff at the Stoke branch are very connected to their customers and while some members of staff have been guaranteed new roles, it is a minority.”

Rachel says the Union have found the announcement “really disappointing” and have had very little information from Westpac.

“The bank made nearly $1 billion in profit last year and $465 million just in the last six months, so it’s not like it’s an organisation that needs to make cuts to stay afloat,” she says.

A statement from Westpac last week hinted that an increase in online transactions had initiated the closures.

A Westpac spokesperson stated: “Currently, more than 85 percent of service transactions with us take place outside of a branch. In addition, over the last five years, online transactions increased by 61 percent and in the last year online logins via a mobile device have increased by 33 percent.”

But the closure would be a double blow for elderly Stoke residents with the Work and Income (WINZ) office for Stoke seniors closing back in May.

Nelson Greypower President Gordon Currie says if it shut, it would have an “extremely big affect” on Stoke’s senior citizens.

“We’ve discussed it with the Union and have offered our support. It’s not as though Westpac is struggling – I can’t understand the reason for wanting to shut it. It’ll be a big loss of service to Stoke,” he says.

Sue Tilby, manager of Age Concern Nelson Tasman says she will be making her concerns clear to Westpac as well.

“It is very disappointing,” she says. “Stoke is primarily an area of older people and they aren’t as able to get around or access technology as easily. They are taking away their rights and I’ll be doing something about it.”

Mayor Rachel Reese has also expressed her concern over the possible closure and says she will be having “constructive discussions” with Westpac representatives in the coming weeks.

“It is critical that decisions are made at a local level with good quality information rather than at a one size fits all national level,” she says.

Rachel Boyack says a consultation process is now underway, with a decision expected on the closures in September or October.

“We’ve got the next couple of weeks to be involved in the consultation process,” she says. “The Union has made a submission, and we encourage customers to do so as well – by contacting Westpac directly – ringing them, writing a letter, or taking it into the branch.”