What happens when a town loses its last bank?
The National Australia Bank branch in Boort opened in 1880 and survived almost 140 years. (ABC News: Lauren Day)
There are arguably just two essential services in a small town — a bank and a pub.
And when the former closed in the tiny Victorian town of Boort, it was the talk of the latter.
“It’s not helping the town’s future,” local Ian Allison told 7.30 over a schooner.
“People go away to do their shopping and banking and all that sort of stuff, and a little town dies.”
‘Once you lose businesses, you never get them back’
Last week, after nearly 140 years, the National Australia Bank (NAB) closed its Boort branch for the final time.
Tim Byrne is a long-time Boort local and, until now, a long-time customer of the NAB.
“We’ll be changing our accounts, so we’ll go to the Bendigo Bank and our local branch will be in Charlton,” Mr Byrne said.
“That’s 50k’s away.
“And as far as the community’s concerned, if businesses or people have to travel to other towns to bank, they go to buy their groceries there or they go to buy their kids’ shoes there.
“So, that’s all money going out of the town.
“That’s how it affects the town (and) once you lose businesses and a bank, for example, you never get them back in these-sized communities.
“We don’t generally get bigger, we’re only getting smaller all the time.”
Craig Robertson is worried it could be the beginning of the end for the town he loves.
“It puts a lot of pressure on the businesses that are in town so how we survive from here, who knows what’s going to happen down the track but it will be difficult,” he says.
Dalip Chawla came to Boort when there were two bank branches; now there are none. (ABC News: Lauren Day)
One of the main businesses likely to suffer is the supermarket next to the bank.
Its owner Dalip Chawla came to Boort six years ago when there were two bank branches in town.
Even then, locals would sometimes treat his shop like a bank.
“There’s always some problem, either the internet is down, the ATM is down, there’s not enough cash in the ATM,” he said.
“So sometimes we have to get money from our own pockets to keep the town going.”
He moved his family here, bought a house and bought a business — invested his whole future in what is now a town with no bank.
“It looks like it’s going to take the value of my business down because any business person looks at the facilities or the infrastructure available,” he said.
“And if there’s not much infrastructure, they’ll think twice.”
When asked how this makes him feel about his decision to move here, he has one word — a word 7.30 heard many times while in Boort.
Banks blame the internet
Boort is not alone.
From January last year to April 2018, dozens of regional towns across Australia have suffered the same fate.
In Victoria, more than 40 branches have closed while NSW has had 56 closures.
Nationally, ANZ has closed the most branches but NAB, which has built its reputation around helping regional Australia, has the second-highest number of closures.
Krissie Jones is the Executive General Manager of Retail for NAB and was in Boort to oversee the closure.
Two decades ago, Boort had three of the Big Four banks in town. Today, there are none. (ABC News: Lauren Day)
“We have really strong ties into the communities all over regional Australia and it’s something that is anchored to the heritage of NAB and something that we want to continue to have a strong presence in,” she told 7.30.
“But we need to reflect on the fact that our customers are actually banking in different ways and so we need to support them as they change, we need to change too.”
She said she understood why some people felt betrayed and had decided to change banks.
“We believe that we can continue to offer great services. Whilst we may not have the physical building, we still can continue to help those customers and service their needs in different ways,” she said.
“But of course customers do have choice and they do have other options and we’d love to keep as many customers as we can but at the same time it is consumer choice.”
Closures putting business owners at risk
Back at the pub, owner Andrew McLeod is carefully wrapping his takings in a calico bag and stuffing them in the glovebox of his car.
He banked with the town’s second-last bank, the Commonwealth, which closed its doors last year.
“It’s just meant we have to deposit our money each week and we’ve got to drive half an hour to an hour to Kerang or Bendigo,” he told 7.30.
“Taking it away you’re just not sure what’s going to happen, you could break down or anything.
“It’s not a million dollars but it’s enough to be worried about.”
But while he’s angry about the bank closures, Andrew McLeod believes Boort is bigger than the bank.
“The people in the town, they will keep it going and to the big banks, Boort will still be here in 20 years and you might not be,” he said.
“So that’s what it’s all about, the spirit of the bush.”