Don’t bank on getting a cheque cashed or a loan approved in Atlin six months from now.
This week, the Bank of Montreal announced it will be closing the village’s only bank branch in December.
It’s British Columbia’s seventh bank branch to close in 2009.
“This is not sitting well with the community,” said Bobby Whalen, an Atlin resident.
“With a community as isolated as ours it will be very detrimental.”
The branch was no longer considered viable by the head office in Ottawa, according to Andy Clough, personal banking area manager for Bank of Montreal.
“Whether it is Atlin or anywhere, we review every location to see if business is strong and going forward and if it makes sense to keep it open,” said Clough.
Currently, the Atlin bank is open only three days a week from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and is staffed by British Columbia government employees.
It’s the only banking institution in the community and, when the bank closes, residents will be forced to go online or drive to outside communities to do their banking.
“They (the Bank of Montreal) will lose lots of business when they close in Atlin,” said Heike Rueckenback, owner of the Atlin General Store.
“People are upset they’re closing. They’ll be looking into (becoming clients of) other banks.”
Rueckenback visits the Atlin bank branch a couple times a month and relies on the branch to make change for her business.
Although it will be an inconvenience, she says she already has to drive into Whitehorse once a week and can do her banking there. She’s more worried about the older generation in Atlin.
“It will be worse for older folks who can’t drive up to Whitehorse, don’t have a computer and don’t trust the system,” she said.
About 75 per cent of the 350 people who live in Atlin are over the age of 55, said Whalen.
“These are people who are used to the personal touch,” she said.
This week the Bank of Montreal began contacting its 250 clients to let them know of the closure.
Bill payment is the most common service accessed by bank clients in Atlin and clients will be encouraged to do banking either by phone or via the internet, said Clough.
“I met with community leaders (in Atlin) and they thought it was very fair that we were contacting all our clients six months beforehand to talk about it.”
But according to Whalen, community leaders are still upset about how they were told about the closure.
“A meeting was called last week but most people didn’t show up because they were given a day’s notice and didn’t know what the meeting was about. It was poor planning,” she said.
Sheldon Sands, owner of Pine Tree Services in Atlin, wonders why the Bank of Montreal would bother closing the Atlin branch when their overhead costs are so low.
“I’d have to say it costs the Bank of Montreal virtually nothing to operate. They have a free building and free employees,” he said.
He finds the reasoning the bank is giving Atlin residents hard to swallow.
“If I had free rent and employees it would be pretty easy to make a living. This just sounds like an excuse to me,” he said.
Sands already does most of his banking with CIBC but has one account with the Bank of Montreal he says he’ll continue to use for his rental properties.
“I’ll probably switch banks though, if my renters can’t pay their bills directly,” he said.
The bank closure may have other spin-off effects, in Sands’ opinion.
“People in town with government cheques will either have to go to local businesses to get them cashed—which will be a nuisance—or they’ll go to Whitehorse to cash them and spend their money there,” said Sands.
Residents in Atlin have already met to discuss how they will save their only bank. They plan to write letters to government officials and meet with representatives from the Bank of Montreal, hoping for a change of heart.
“We’re rallying together because we’re not prepared to lose our bank, it will set us back so many years” said Whalen.
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