Scotiabank has operated a branch in South Mountain since 1917. Morin photoSOUTH MOUNTAIN – A crowd of 100 or more disappointed and frustrated South Mountain and area residents left the Mountain Township Agricultural Hall on Wed., Jan. 29; they had been at a community meeting hosted by Scotiabank to discuss the fate of their local South Mountain Branch.
In Nov. 2019, the Bank of Nova Scotia sent a letter to branch clients in South Mountain stating they were planning to close the branch in June 2020.
Scotiabank has had a bank in the village since 1917.
The letter stated, “After careful consideration of the market, we have decided to relocate our services at 106619 Main Street, South Mountain, to our branch at 300 Colonnade Drive, Kemptville. We’ll be much better equipped to provide the one-on-one services you have come to expect from Scotiabank.”
The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada has rules about bank closures called “Notice of Branch Closure Regulations.”
Any complaint or serious questions from residents in a community about a bank closure triggers a town-hall type of meeting to allow a bank and its customers to have a conversation about the closure. Anticipating the potential for an unruly meeting, Scotiabank had asked the OPP to be present.
North Dundas Mayor Tony Fraser opened the meeting by saying, “This evening does not promise a lot of good news, but important news for the residents of South Mountain.”
He went on to ask the crowd to remember to be civil and allow any questions to be answered throughout the meeting.
He said, “We need to make sure we have the opportunity to speak, and we need to make sure we have the opportunity to hear the answers.”
Many residents at the Jan. 29 meeting had hoped the meeting was a chance to convince Scotiabank to reverse its decision but they were surprised when Martine Laviolette, district vice president of the bank, said, “After very careful consideration, we have made the final decision to close the South Mountain branch as of June 18.”
“We did not make this decision lightly, I myself have spent many years as a branch manager in small communities just like South Mountain; we know that this change will be difficult. This was a very difficult decision but we truly feel this relocation will help us put greater resources behind our branch in Kemptville so that we can provide resources to our customers in this area; including more modern and up-to-date technology. I want to assure you that I will try to answer all of your questions today. Today is just one conversation of many. Over the next few days, few weeks we will also be in touch directly with individuals to help you with this transition.”
To help with the transition, the bank will be leaving a full-service automated teller machine (ATM) in the village, but eventually there will no longer be night deposits.
“The exact location has not yet been determined,” said Laviolette. “You will continue to have banking access to banking services through telephone and mobile and online.”
She said if residents do not have computer access or knowledge of how to do online banking, the bank is sponsoring some computer equipment and help for those interested at the South Mountain Library.
“During this transition, our staff will be available to help you get set up and familiar with all of the options we have,” she said.
There was no shortage of residents with questions.
Ed Dizazzo prefaced his question by thanking the bank and bank staff for their history of community support. “They have donated to the fire department, the local library building and to our food banks. They have been a long-time supporter of the community and we appreciated it,” he said.
His comments directed to bank staff received a loud and long applause.
Dizazzo pointed out that Scotiabank had recorded a $9.4-billion profit in 2019.
He said he was aware that the decision to leave South Mountain was not a local decision.
“I’d bet money that your CEO has no clue where South Mountain is, doesn’t really care, and couldn’t pick it out on a map. We also know that it is nothing personal,” said Dizazzo.
He explained South Mountain has an older population. “Almost one in five residents is 65 or older.”
Dizazzo suggested many residents do not have computers or smart phones to do computer banking.
“And even for those who do, the infrastructure isn’t there. Forty per cent of Eastern Ontario does not have access to high-speed internet and ten per cent of the area has no cell phone reception whatsoever,” said Dizazzo.
He offered up a suggestion that, if accepted, would pause any idea of moving the branch out of the community.
“We propose that as a pilot project the bank delayed its closure in South Mountain, for a period of 12 to 18 months, and…this is the important part…in the interim, you partner with the many community groups, the Lions, the food banks, friends of the library, among others, to put on digital literary sessions for their members and others that wish it,” he said.
His suggestion would see trainers and equipment and a little start-up money to get the population more comfortable with online and mobile-based banking.
“That way, Scotiabank could prove that it cares as much about its customers as it cares about its profits,” said Dizazzo.
Laviolette did not say yes to the suggestion but pointed out that the bank’s staff were already giving instructions on how to navigate the online banking world.
She added that the decision to relocate the branch was not taken lightly and that the decision was final.
The meeting came to an end with several people saying the bank had lied to them and had wasted their time with meeting and that many of its South Mountain clients would do their banking elsewhere.
Scotiabank also has branches in Chesterville and Osgoode.