THE BUSINESS community of Black River in St Elizabeth says the banking sector has dealt a devastating blow to the parish capital with the impending closure of the National Commercial Bank (NCB) branch there.
Last week, the bank announced that it would be closing five more branches from its network of 32. The Black River branch is the only branch outside of the Corporate Area listed for full closure.
An announcement of the decision to close the financial institution came in an email advisory to customers, informing them that the closure of the branches will take effect on May 6. The other branches to be closed are Hagley Park Road, Washington Boulevard, Oxford Road and Cross Roads, all in the Corporate Area.
Customers, however, will still have access to the 24/7 Bank On-The-Go areas, as ABMs will remain in all the locations except Oxford Road, where usage is said to be relatively lower than other places.
Black River Mayor Derrick Sangster said the move by NCB has left the local business community and residents at the mercy of technology.
NOT ALL CUSTOMERS TECHNICALLY SAVVY
“It is creating frustration in the parish and it has dealt a serious blow to many customers, and we have to accept that some are not technically savvy,” Sangster told The Gleaner. “Many customers don’t even want to open accounts so that they will be able to access the ATMs. It’s going to be a great disadvantage to many customers.”
Already, Sangster, who is also chairman of the St Elizabeth Municipal Corporation, said the shuttering of the NCB Black River branch is causing problems at the corporation for many small contractors who carry out work on its behalf and are paid by cheques but have no bank accounts.
“We have a challenge at the municipal corporation already because we have a large account there (at NCB) and when we give out work to persons, they have to travel to Santa Cruz to get their cheques cash[ed],” said Sangster.
He noted that with the closure of the Scotiabank branch in 2021, and the recent announcement by NCB to fully close down its face-to-face operations, residential and commercial interests are disappointed.
Medical practitioner and treasurer of the Black River Chamber of Commerce, Dr Adeniyi Bamidele, described the decision by NCB to shutter its face-to-face banking services as ‘disgraceful’ and lacking vision.
“Whether Scotiabank or National Commercial Bank, it is a disgrace because all these banks have been here for many decades, but they have just left the people to the mercy of themselves,” Bamidele stated.
The operations of all face-to-face banking services from both banks are being consolidated to their Santa Cruz branch, which is located 28 kilometres or 17 miles from Black River.
But Bamidele, who has been operating his medical facility in the area for over 32 years, said travelling to ‘Santa’ is very inconvenient and that when you get there, the banking lines are extremely long because people are coming from all over.
“If they were supporting the local business community more and facilitating start-up businesses, they would be making a profit,” he said of NCB and Scotiabank.
As for their loan facilities, the Black River businessman said the banks are more concentrated on material things.
“If you are buying a car they would be quick to give you a loan, but the moment you tell them you are doing business ... agricultural production, they don’t want to hear that,” he stated.
Carlton Brown, a land developer, said the decision is extremely disappointing because Black River is growing and there are a lot of upcoming opportunities.
“NCB has decided to fully close, but in this world that we are living in, we are subject to changes, anytime and, therefore, when one goes, another one will come,” said Brown. “We just have to keep the economic activities as vibrant as possible so that we can encourage another bank to come, so that we can serve the needs of the people in Black River.”