Start date for four regional banking hub pilots pushed back until 'social activity is as close to normal as possible'

Start date for four regional banking hub pilots pushed back until 'social activity is as close to normal as possible'

The Covid-19 pandemic has delayed a regional banking hubs pilot through which six banks plan to work together to provide banking services in regional New Zealand following criticism over branch closures.

The regional banking hub initiative was unveiled by the Government and the New Zealand Bankers' Association (NZBA) last September.

With hubs for the trial in Martinborough, Opunake, Stoke and Twizel featuring a smart ATM, support staff and online and technology support, the pilot had been due to start earlier this year and run for 12 months.

However an NZBA spokesman told interest.co.nz the four hubs had been due to open in May and June, but the Covid-19 crisis and lockdown forced a delay.

“We’ve already put a lot of work into the regional banking hubs pilot since it was announced last year," the NZBA spokesman said.

“We, and the six participating banks, want to make sure the hubs have the best chance to succeed. That makes it important that the pilot is run when social activity is as close to normal as possible. Otherwise the visitation and transaction data we need to test the viability of these hubs won’t provide a realistic picture of how popular they will be in the community."

“That’s why we’re now looking to open the pilots in November. By that time it should be clear if the hub pilots can operate in as normal a setting as possible. That timing is subject to review,” said the NZBA spokesman.

He added that it's intended the pilots will run for "up to a year."

This year's annual Financial Institutions Performance Survey from KPMG noted NZ banks had 980 branches as of September 30 last year, down 44 from 1024 a year earlier.

A spokeswoman for Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the Government had not committed any money to the regional hub initiative.

Announcing the initiative last year NZBA said each banking hub pilot would test different ways of adapting to community demand, with requirements and services evolving over time. The hubs would provide different capabilities, with variations in technology and personal service, NZBA said, adding it would establish partnerships with local organisations or use existing bank infrastructure branches to host the hubs.

For the purposes of the pilot, regional branches have been defined as those outside the city council boundaries of Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

In a statement last year Robertson said the regional banking hub move was "fantastic news for people in smaller towns who have been left feeling cut off as more banking moves online." Minister for Regional Economic Development Shane Jones said the announcement was the first sign of hope for regional communities that had lost their face to face banking facilities.

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