The irony of a branch closure
By Jenn Watt
The world is changing – becoming more connected, more wired, less personal, less tangible. We see this in every aspect of our lives. It has transformed how we watch TV, how we communicate with friends, our shopping habits and, yes, our banking.
Most people would agree that the more we bank online the less need we have for the traditional bank teller.
(Whether that is a better way to do things is arguable.)
If we choose to move our money with a click of a mouse or a touch of a smartphone screen, it follows that the person who used to do those things at the bank downtown may no longer be necessary.
Which is why on the face of it, the closure of a little bank branch with peculiar hours in the hamlet of Wilberforce seems obvious.
It had a small base of customers and, as Scotiabank representatives noted, 80 per cent of banking now happens outside the branch.
Except the percentage is likely not quite that high in Wilberforce.
Highlands East is a part of Haliburton County that has historically suffered from cellphone dead zones and patchy Internet coverage.
Even some who live on main roadways and highways haven’t always had online access and would never be able to cash a cheque using their smartphones while at home.
Yes, there are public access points with high-speed Internet and yes, there are places you can hold your phone just so to get enough bars to call a friend, but overall the area still lags behind.
Which makes it ironic that Wilberforce would be the first ones hit with a branch closure that comes due to increased Internet and mobile banking.
Representatives of the local advocacy group People Before Profits point out that before banks are taken away from small towns, the government should at least ensure there is the cell service to give the population options.
Because more people in bigger, more connected places are banking online, those in Wilberforce without the Internet now have no branch to go to.
Many seniors are now given the added burden of finding a ride to Bancroft (or Haliburton should they choose to switch banks) just to deposit a cheque.
It’s striking how unfair the turn of events is on such a small town.
As this branch closes, provincial and federal governments should be made aware of how crucial their attention and funding will be in the coming years.
Wilberforce can do without a bank – it’s not ideal, but they will survive.
But they, like so many other small, rural places, need the attention of decision makers in order to stay viable.
They need high-speed Internet, reliable cell service and investment in community infrastructure in order to thrive.