Do you remember when every little town in New Zealand had a bank of some type ? I seem to recall that the bank wasn’t only a place that you did your financial transactions, but it was a social hub for the community: a place where the bank staff were pillars of the community and their views and advice were valued. It was a place where the staff knew what was happening in their area, knew what people needed, knew their customers and valued them.

So lets teleport to 2021. Times are changing (of course) and the digital world has become the tool for communication, entertainment, social interaction and business. In amongst all this, banks are still expected to deal with customers and New Zealanders in the same manner they used to. Well not in the sense of HOW they deal with them, but to retain the INTENT of the way they deal with them. Why is this important ? Well because New Zealanders still deal with banks for the same reasons that they did 10, 20, 50 or 100 years ago…. to provide financial services appropriate to their lifestyle. Banks are a business, but a necessary one in our society and how they operate and connect with everyone of us is fundamental to our society.

But some important changes have happened. The people who make decisions on the operation and strategic direction of the banks that service New Zealanders have decided that their service ethic can now best be displayed through flashy television adverts. They have decided that personal service can now be provided through a voice over a phone or through a “chat” system on a digital platform. They have decided that the local knowledge and understanding of customers can be worked out through “customer surveys” and “online feedback on a Face Book page”. They have decided that customers will come to them regardless of what they offer or do because everyone needs a bank. They have decided that having a bricks and mortar presence in a town or suburb is not “cost effective” and can be done far cheaper by customers with an internet connection and a smart phone …. after all, to the 32 year old financial advisors who make these decisions, and who spend all their waking moments on their phone, they cannot possibly imagine that anyone exists these days without a smartphone. They have decided that cheques are something out of the dark ages and have no place in 2021, and no one they know uses them. They have decided that to survive and climb up the corporate ladder in the financial world, you need to show how innovative, technologically savvy and ruthless you are.

Whoa… hold on…. where does that leave the little old customers now ? The 1,000,000 New Zealanders who don’t have a smart phone, and don’t have an internet connection that functions very well (they live in some remote place), they have vision problems (like my mum at 98), or they want to call in and discuss their savings account with someone who cares and not some voice on a phone who they have waited 27 minutes to speak to. They don’t want a home loan or some fancy investment plan, they just want to know their little bit of savings is secure and they can access it if they want to get their family some treats. They want someone to talk to who remembers them and values them and makes them feel that they are worthwhile.

Well they have been forgotten big time.

The 5 major trading banks in New Zealand extracted over $750 million in extra profits in the first quarter of the latest financial year. Since September 2020, they have together closed over 80 branches and shut down over 250 ATMs. During the Covid lockdown they were lauded for offering “mortgage holidays” to their struggling customers, which is actually going to reap them over $100 million in extra mortgage payments in the coming years. The CEO of ANZ spent over $450,000 padding out his personal collection of wine bottles at his home in Sydney. The Chair of the ANZ Board (an ex NZ Prime Minister by the way) dismissed the wine cellar expenditure and then sold the same person his house for a tidy profit.

These are trading banks in 2021 New Zealand. They act like the loan sharks of old, they do as they please and no one has the balls to confront them, least of all Government officials and politicians.

In amongst it all are the little old Kiwi customers, just trying to string together a life and their small incomes. So please have a good hard think about what we are letting happen in our little country.