• Robyn McDonald
Consumer Affairs

Minister of Consumer Affairs, Hon Robyn McDonald, has expressed concern over the impacts on consumers of the merger of the National and Countrywide Banks.

"While I welcome any moves in the banking industry that rationalise banking infrastructures and, as a result, reduce bank charges; I am concerned about the prospect of further bank closures and the support provided to customers once a branch closes.

"I have written to the New Zealand Bankers' Association today expressing my concern over the levels of support offered to customers, particularly older people, once a branch closes.

"Some people are uncomfortable using telephone banking and ATMs as they find such technology confusing or overwhelming," she said.

"I understand some bank branches provide transition programmes offering training to customers on the use of technology and I have encouraged the Bankers' Association to implement such programmes as a matter of basic customer service in all banks.

"These programmes should be standard banking practice. Customers who place their hard-earned funds in a bank should receive all the support necessary to ensure they have continued ready, secure access to their funds in the future if their branch closes.

Ms McDonald says it makes good commercial sense for banks to institute these programmes, as customers who are unsure or uncomfortable with banking technology may withdraw their funds and custom from their current bank and move them to a bank that better supports their needs.

The Minister has also questioned the Bankers' Association over the number of bank closures that have occurred in recent years. The KPMG Survey of Financial Institutions reports that from 1993 to 1997, 441 bank branches have closed across New Zealand.

"I am concerned that the drive to close banks is actually reducing customer access to the service levels banks can offer. It also erodes customers' ability to access new information and services which must be a concern to banks themselves.

"I have asked the Bankers' Association to identify what research has taken to ascertain the critical mass of branches required to support customer needs and provide access to new services and products in this country."