Just days after the Neucel Specialty Cellulose pulp mill told its remaining 12 workers they were going home without pay, Scotiabank — the only bank in the small north Island community of Port Alice — gave notice it is pulling out.
In an email on March 15, Krista Stewart, manager of Canadian Banking Communications for Scotiabank, stated the company made the “difficult decision” to close the Port Alice branch, effective as of Oct. 24.
“We recognize our customers’ needs are changing with more people choosing online and digital channels,” the email stated, adding the decision came after a review of their branch network that includes a full area market analysis.
In the meantime, small local businesses are left with another hurdle to overcome. Marny Graham of Port Alice Petroleum Products called the branch closure “terrible!”
Graham said 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, 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.
Port Alice resident Tiffany Sholes worked for the Credit Union in Campbell River for six years. She said banks don’t want the expense of real estate and wages that go with a bank. 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 said 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 said an interactive teller machine where you can interact with a live teller remotely, might be a solution for Port Alice.
With the mill closure now reaching four years and odds of reopening dim, Port Alice is transitioning 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 to 7:30 p.m.