By Chad Ingram
Published July 13 2016
Scotiabank's district vice-presidentfor central east Ontario was mocked for his scripted non-answersduring a meeting with residents of Wilberforce July 12.
Scotiabank announced last month it willclose branches in Wilberforce and Maynooth in January as itconsolidates operations at its branch in Bancroft. Reps from the bankmet with unhappy Wilberforce residents at the Keith Tallman ArenaTuesday night.
“While I know this topic is not oneyou're glad to be here to discuss we do look forward to thisopportunity” Nick Toritto Scotiabank's central east Ontariodistrict vice-president told a crowd of more than 50 residents. “Mycolleagues and I are committed to staying here tonight until we'veanswered all your questions to the best of our ability.”
The bank Toritto explained has beenaffected by technological evolution and is making changes due tocustomer preferences for mobile and online banking.
“Banks around the world are changingrapidly” Toritto said.
“Not here!” a number of peopleyelled from the crowd. There are swaths of Highlands East townshipthat are still without access to the Internet. A number of residents saidthey don't use computers or the Internet and one said she couldn'tafford the Internet even if she was able to get it.
“This decision was not taken lightlyand that change will be difficult” said Toritto who told the roomhe was one of the individuals responsible for making the decision.“During the months ahead we will do everything possible to make thattransition as easily as possible.”
Residents took turns asking questionsfrom a microphone in the centre of the crowd.
“Is this branch making money or arethey losing money?” asked one man. “Or am I not supposed toknow?”
“What we're telling you tonight Iknow is difficult and it's not something I know you want to hearfrom us” Toritto said. “What we do know is that customer needsand preferences are changing and they're changing everywhere. Ourrole here this evening is to help and we'd like the opportunity tomeet with you one-on-one to demonstrate and share and make youaware of what other options are available for you from a bankingperspective.”
“You did not answer the question”someone in the crowd shouted. “Is the bank making money or losingmoney? Please answer.”
“I know there's nothing I can saythis evening that's going to change the way you're feeling”Toritto said.
“You said you would answer everyquestion!” someone shouted from the audience.
“We will take that question away andcome back to you” Toritto said.
Craig McDonald owner of theWilberforce Foodland and landlord of the bank building was one ofmany residents to take the microphone.
“Just so everyone knows that's goingon with you guys you are leaving we know it's a done deal there'sno sense fighting and arguing about it you guys are gone”McDonald said. “You're taking the bank you're taking the ATM withyou. Your lease doesn't expire until February 2018. Right now I'vebeen told that you guys are willing to leave the bank empty untilFebruary 2018 unless I accept a reduced rent. That's the kind ofpeople we're dealing with. I don't really have questions for youI've got comments. You have to remember this is coming fromScotiabank office. They don't care about our county. They don't careabout the people. The only good news I got from them is they'releaving the bank intact. The vault's going to stay everything'sstaying so if we can get another financial institution to come init's ready to go.”
A number of residents includingMcDonald have formed a People Before Profits committee which isworking on a business plan and exploring options to get another bankinto Wilberforce.
“It's going to take us time and wewant people to give us that time” McDonald said. “Don't feelpressured that you have to go to Scotiabank in Bancroft.”
The committee includes representativesfrom Highlands East township as well as the Algonquin GatewayBusiness Association.
“Right now we're all united and weneed the community to stay united behind us” McDonald said.
On the issue of the ATM Toritto saidScotiabank was looking for a local business to partner with.
Mary Barker of Agnew's General Storesaid the store was one of the businesses the bank has been eyeing asan ATM location.
“They have offered to give us amachine they didn't offer to pay us any rent” Barker said addingthe bank said it would not be responsible for any damage to the storeas a result of any break-ins or increases in insurance premiums. “I'mnot sure that Scotiabank is going to be willing to find a businessthat's going to take them on.”
A number of residents said Scotiabankshould have held a meeting with residents before the announcement andasked why the bank had taken the course it had.
“If we had done a survey and we'dstill come to this decision I don't think you'd feel any differentlythan you do today” Toritto said.
Numerous residents said they didn'thave access to Internet or transportation to get them to Bancroftincluding one woman who said she was a widow who didn't like to keeptoo much cash in her house at one time.
Toritto's response to most of thesecomments was that he'd be happy to talk to people about theirpersonal circumstances following the meeting.
“I'm a single mom and I'm poor”said one woman. “I have nothing to hide. You can talk to me infront of all these people.”
“You sound like a robot” anotherwoman told Toritto. “You're a computer.”
Members of Highlands East council werein attendance with Deputy-reeve Suzanne Partridge and Reeve DaveBurton each taking the microphone.
“I'd like to know how many people inWilberforce and Maynooth are going to lose their jobs” Partridgesaid.
There are six staff at the Wilberforcebranch and three in Maynooth.
“We are working with themindividually” said Toritto. “We are creating jobs in Bancroft.”
A number of residents told Toritto theywould be taking their money out of Scotiabank and Burton said whileit may not be much to Scotiabank the township would be taking its$10-million account elsewhere.
“I will not as reeve of themunicipality take our dollars out of the county” Burton said. “Wemay start our own [bank]. Look out Scotiabank.”
Burton also told Toritto he'd handledthe meeting poorly.
“If I came to a meeting as poorlyprepared as you have these people would not support me down theroad” he said. “And you've done a poor job.”
Scotiabank has been in Wilberforcesince 1969.