SHARE

With more banks discontinuing the use of cheques, and many closing or reducing hours at their branches, there are concerns those who are not tech-savvy will get left behind.

By July this year, ANZ, Westpac and BNZ will have stopped accepting cheques, following in the footsteps of Kiwibank, ASB, Inland Revenue and ACC, which have already made cheques obsolete.

Most banks and organisations were moving to online banking, and offered phone banking for those unfamiliar with a digital landscape.

The change was not without reason – the way people banked had changed, BNZ spokesman Sam Durbin said.

Nearly 75% of the bank’s clients were “digitally active and engaged”, and cheque use had declined by 90%.

But with Waimate’s BNZ branch due to close on May 28, Age Concern Otago Waitaki co-ordinator Caitriona Prunty had concerns for those living rurally and those over 65 years old.

“Someone may come in from one of the rural areas once a month – and it’s a social occasion,” Ms Prunty said.

Mr Durbin said the decision to close the Waimate branch did not come lightly.

In the past six months, fewer than 500 people had been into the Waimate branch on more than one occasion, and around 70% of customers linked to the branch were digitally active, he said.

A BNZ Smart ATM would be available in Waimate after the branch’s closure. The nearest alternative branch, in Timaru, and phone banking was also an option, Mr Durbin said.

BNZ would also offer digital education sessions at its branches, over the phone and through some of the community organisations it worked with.

In an effort to prevent those over 65 falling behind, the Waitaki District Libraries has been touring the district with a digital learning bus called Dora.

Earlier this month, it hosted classes for two weeks, teaching people about online banking, how to recognise scams and how to protect themselves online.

Reference and digital services librarian Debbie Price-Ewen said there was a huge need in the community, with people over 65 “struggling to get their heads around” the digital world.

“There is a whole context around it, and it can be scary without that context,” Mrs Price-Ewen said.

She hoped the classes helped demystify online banking.

She recognised that many people in rural communities still used cheques, and some people lived in areas the internet could not reach.

“We are in a digitally-connected world and I believe digital inclusion is a human right.”

The Waitaki District Libraries’ digital education services would not stop with the bus.

Mrs Price-Ewen wanted to encourage people to go into the library for digital help, even if Dora was not around.

Dunedin’s Age Concern also started running pilot classes last year, and Ms Prunty hoped they would also be introduced in Oamaru because the demand called for additional services.

It was not just about online banking, it was also about feeling connected, she said.