About 40 residents filed into the Port Alice Community Centre at 6 pm on March 21st to hear Scotiabank officials discuss the branch closure planned for Oct. 24, 2019.
The meeting was conducted by Sofia Pugh, the Vancouver Island District Vice-President. Also present was Krista Stewart, Manager of Canadian Banking Communications for Scotiabank in Toronto, and Michelle Jensen, Branch Manager for Port Hardy and Port Alice. The meeting started out quietly but became increasingly animated as it went on.
Pugh stated that they made some changes in order to keep operating, such as reducing the number of days that the branch is open. Despite these efforts, they had to “tackle some challenging realities here as a business…that there’s a fundamental change in the way we bank.”
Residents were informed that the ATM will not be staying, along with the vault and other physical attributes. With no financial institution connected to it, the ATM would be difficult to service properly. After a resident complained that this could disable efforts to find another lender, Pugh responded that “the physical piece of the branch has not been finalized. Those are still in conversation.”
When repeatedly asked what to do about seniors with no computer and no car, residents received the same stock response, “We will be reaching out to each of you…and we will try to find a solution that makes sense for you…” which eventually lead to an uproar.
Pellar Brieba asked, “Is the bank going to…buy them computers?” Her query was followed by laughter and a reply that was a negative.
Brieba asserted that she thinks the bank has made “tons of money,” citing the fact that they just bought an arena in Toronto from Air Canada, “They have the money for that, but they don’t have the money to keep the bank going?”
Pugh mentioned that through their support for hockey, they have sponsored over a million children.
Audrey Clark-Surtees later added, but they “can’t look after 800 people in Port Alice?”
As questions persisted for a specific reason for the bank closure, Pugh finally stated, “…we have been transitioning mostly to digital banking and online banking…we removed from the branch network to reinvest in the technology we are trying to build out.”
There were discussions about alternative banking means, such as paying bills at a retail outlet for a small fee and depositing cheques online.
Audrey Clark-Surtees asked if Scotiabank was going to pay for an armoured truck to come out? If businesses are travelling to Port Hardy to make deposits, she questions, “You don’t think someone isn’t going to try to rob them?”
Pugh attested that Scotiabank does not have interactive teller machines (ITMs)—that are like an ATM where you can speak with a live teller remotely—which could be a possible replacement for the branch.
A resident mentioned that the Credit Union in Sointula functions in a small space inside a hotel and is highly successful.
There were requests to extend banking hours in Port Hardy to one evening a week and/or a Saturday, and to waive bank fees to accommodate patrons who live an hour away.
It was suggested that Scotiabank seems to be leaving because the mill is in receivership, and that it does not care about the burgeoning tourist industry in Port Alice. Pugh claimed that was not the case at all. Krista Stewart added that she would take that concern away with her when she returns to Toronto.
– Debra Lynn article