A matter of days after the Neucel Specialty Cellulose pulp mill told its remaining 12 workers they were going home without pay, Scotiabank gave notice that they are pulling out of Port Alice as of Oct. 24.
For many residents, the two events are inextricably linked. In the meantime, small local businesses are left with more hurdles to overcome in order to keep operating.
In an email on March 15, Krista Stewart, Manager of Canadian Banking Communications for Scotiabank in Toronto, stated that after a review of their branch network that includes a full area market analysis, they made the “difficult decision” to close the Port Alice branch because, “We recognize our customers’ needs are changing with more people choosing online and digital channels.”
New resident, Dan Ulrich, of The Lighthouse Inn B & B, is not too concerned about the closure as he, and many of his generation, do all their banking online. He does believe, however, that it could be an issue for some seniors.
Marny Graham of Port Alice Petroleum Products says the branch closure is “terrible!” because she will not be able to do her bank deposits and get change every day. She is also concerned for older people who don’t have a computer, internet, or even a vehicle to go Port Hardy to pay bills. In October or sooner, she intends to pull all her accounts out of Scotiabank.
Port Alice resident Tiffany Sholes has worked for the Credit Union in Campbell River for six years, on the front line and behind the scenes. She is aware of how banks don’t want to pay for front line people because they are paying for real estate, as well as those people’s wages. She thinks, “it is a thing of the past to have a teller.”
Sholes hasn’t had an account in a traditional bank for 10 years. She banks with Tangerine and has found that she has saved thousands in bank fees and interest.
In spite of her enthusiasm for online banking, Sholes acknowledges that the closure of Scotiabank branch in Port Alice will be hard on businesses. A daily one-and-a-half-hour trip to Port Hardy and back to make a deposit will be costly and stressful. If their accounts are run tight, they will have to make those deposits to cover debits and avoid delinquencies/NSFs. This situation may attract thieves if businesses who try to avoid daily trips to make deposits have more cash on hand and in safes.
Sholes mentioned that there a few Interactive teller machines (ITMs) in use Down Island that are like an ATM where you can interact with a live teller remotely. Perhaps something like this is the solution for Port Alice.
Port Alice, having had a sudden and significant influx of new residents, is going through a transition from an industrial based economy to a more diversified one that includes tourism. In the summer, the village fills up with summer residents and tourists even though there is not enough infrastructure to support them. The closing of the Scotiabank branch could discourage entrepreneurs from investing in these badly needed services.
Mayor Kevin Cameron says the situation is upsetting but adds that he is actively working with council to find another lender to fill the gap. He emphasizes that it is important not to engage in negativity, as this is all part of a paradigm shift that is going on worldwide. He believes Port Alice will come out of this better in the end.
Scotiabank is holding a meeting on Thursday, March 21 at the village’s community centre to answer resident’s questions. The meeting will be from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
– Debra Lynn article