Bank lambasted over branch closure

Resident David Horton makes a point during RBC’s public meeting. VOICE PHOTO

RBC says decision is final; residents upset by lack of consultation

BY SAMUEL PICCOLO
The VOICE

Several dozen RBC clients and concerned Fenwick residents filled RBC’s Fonthill branch last Wednesday evening, voicing their opposition to the bank’s decision to close its Fenwick location after 112 years. RBC notified clients late last year of its decision to merge the Fenwick and Fonthill branches in 2018, and last week’s meeting was intended to be an information session

“The decision has already been made,” RBC Regional Vice President Manon Johanns told the crowd.

“The reality is that the world is changing, and this is happening faster and faster,” she said. “And there are days when many of the staff in Fenwick don’t have anyone coming in to see them. This makes it hard to train new staff, because they don’t have the chance to practice and really know things.” She emphasized that there will still be an RBC ATM in Fenwick, even if it doesn’t remain in the same physical building as it is now.

Many attendees were frustrated by the way in which the bank had made the decision.

“One of the pieces of paper I got from you talked about the FCAC [Financial Consumer Agency of Canada],” said Larry Fisher from the audience. “It says here that the FCAC has the authority to require a bank to convene a meeting on the ‘proposed closure’ if a ‘bank has not consulted the community well enough to ascertain the views of interested persons.’’

“What good is having this meeting tonight when the decision’s already been made?” asked Fisher.

“You can send a letter to the FCAC,” RBC’s Tim Smith told him during the meeting. “They can make us reconsider the process. But in the end it’s the bank’s decision whether to close the branch or not.”

“There was no public meeting because it wouldn’t have changed anything,” said Johanns. “The same decision would have been made.”

“Maybe,” said Fisher. “But it would have made us feel better. The only consultation here is a meeting on a cold and snowy night. And I just think that’s wrong.”

Fisher said later that he would indeed be contacting the FCAC and asking them to review RBC’s process. “I do not think that they’ve done what they’re supposed to have done,” he said.

Other attendees echoed Fisher’s frustrations, saying that they were upset that the decision had been made without public input.

“I don’t even know why I came here,” said resident Gary Chambers. “It just raises my blood pressure.”

Johanns attributed the closure primarily to the reduction in the number of people coming to the Fenwick branch, and explained that the rise in internet banking continues to cut into branch visits.

Johanns acknowledged that for many of the senior attendees, face-to-face banking is still their preferred—or only—option.

“Many of the people here don’t have access to the internet, or don’t want to,” said resident Nancy Beamer. David Horton, another resident, expressed similar thoughts.

“There are a lot of grey hairs here,” he said. “But they probably have a lot of the net worth that’s in that Fenwick branch right now.”

“Oh yes,” Johanns agreed. “Probably eighty percent.”

Horton nodded. “Sometimes it’s worth servicing that eighty percent for another five or ten years, and not pushing us out the door.”

The audience cheered his remarks, and chafed at Manon’s explanation that the closure was the obvious business decision to make.

“Everything you say is I’m sure backed up, and your staff is top-notch,” said former Councillor Marvin Junkin, who was also in the audience. “Any maybe it would make sense if Fenwick was dying, but it’s not, it’s a growing community. There are going to be three or four hundred homes going in, and a ninety-unit seniors’ residence.”

Junkin pointed to RBC’s overall financial position, saying that the firm had made $1.2 billion in profit last year.

“When is enough enough?” he asked.

“Greed is greed,” called out a member of the audience as Junkin finished.

Johanns maintained that all of Fenwick’s planned growth had been considered during the decision-making process, and said that these new residents were expected not to contribute much to branch traffic. With regards to RBC’s profits, she said, “if you have one restaurant that’s making you a lot of money, does it make sense to keep the other one that’s not doing well open? No. As business owners you’d do the same thing”

Nancy Beamer disagreed with her.

“It could be something more like OHIP, where the most profitable parts of RBC support the smaller branches like Fenwick, so that our rural community can stay rural,” she said.

Other residents raised more specific problems that the closure of the Fenwick branch would create. John Langedoen, who operates a nursery in Fenwick with a payroll of some $2 million, said that he takes about a hundred migrant workers to the bank at the beginning of the season.

“They would have to come to Fonthill on their own to get to the bank—if I have to rent a bus to get them here, I would just as soon have the bus go to Welland,” he said.

“We don’t want anyone to leave RBC,” said Johanns. “With the migrant workers, we can come to you at the beginning of the season and help them set up accounts, give them the right debit cards. We’re committed to working with each client and finding a solution.”

In previous weeks, many customers had expressed concerns that there were too few parking spaces at the Fonthill branch, and during the meeting Johanns said that this was to be remedied by the addition of 26 spaces to the existing 29.

One issue that Johanns said was posing difficulty was the time it takes to turn into the Fonthill parking lot from the west, saying that RBC’s Community Manager Jaye Toulouse has timed the turn on multiple occasions, and said that oncoming traffic often makes the wait lengthy.

“I’ve had meetings with the Town, though this road is under Regional control,” said Toulouse. “There are some Regional rules that I understand are not broken, but I’m going to try and keep fighting the good fight to try to make this situation better.” Toulouse said that designated turn lanes would help to address some of the traffic back-up problem.

“Wouldn’t it have been better to have solved these issues first,” asked Gary Chambers.

“I can only control what I can control,” said Johanns, adding that RBC can’t hold off on making decisions forever until things out of its control are resolved.

Attendees made a number of suggestions. David Horton floated the idea of inviting Scotiabank and BMO, two institutions without footprints in Pelham, to create a three-member community banking centre in the Fenwick RBC. Johanns promised to pass the idea along.

She said that RBC intends to put the Fenwick building up for sale, and said that the possibility that another bank could buy the site had not been ruled out.

At moments the meeting grew tense. One man said early on that “it always comes down to bankers being cold-hearted people. You’ve made the decision based on money, because that’s the way bankers are.” RBC employees present shook their heads as he spoke.

But most of the attendees balanced their frustration at RBC’s decision with gratitude for the Fenwick branch staff. Sherry Rusin, who sharply criticized the decision throughout the meeting, devoted her last point to thanking the Fenwick staff, all but one of whom will be moving to the Fonthill branch. (No one will be fired, says RBC, and one employee is retiring.)

“We all really appreciate the service over the years,” said Rusin, as the staff looked embarrassed and one became teary eyed.

Paul Bryant, another Fenwick resident in attendance, was similarly disappointed with RBC’s decision, but credited the bank for at least having a meeting to answer questions.

“They’re here and letting people ask whatever they want,” said Bryant. “If only our Town Council would do that.”

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