I was recently amazed when I visited a bank teller to take out cash. There were—forgive me here—little old ladies with passbooks in clear vinyl envelopes asking the tellers in salty, sunny, Mediterranean languages about their balances.
I hadn’t seen a passbook in three decades, and I was amazed that people still use them. I was amazed the bank still prints them. And, if I’m honest, I was also infuriated: my god, the line was slow. Do you people not know about apps?
But my fury at the waiting in line will be nothing compared to my anger at not having a lineup at all.
The TD Bank at 1979 Weston Road will close and move to the Crossroads Plaza by this time next year, according to residents. (TD has not yet returned my calls.) This is the latest in a series of closures that are turning downtown Weston into a banking desert: the RBC and TD banks on Jane have closed, as did the Scotiabank at Weston and Lawrence. In two years, we will have gone from six branches (and four banks) to two. Only RBC on and BMO, both on Weston Road, remain.
While the big banks have been moving on, money-lenders and high-fee cheque-cashing businesses have been moving in. There are at least 10 payday loan or cheque-cashing places in Weston. Something is wrong with a community when there are more usurers than ice-cream shops.
I’m not usually the sort of guy who says that the government should meddle in business, but in this case, I think they should. Banks are not meeting their social obligations, and the government has a strong moral reason to regulate minimum levels of service—and the muscle to do so.
Being banked is a critical part of being a citizen; even the government pays by cheque and prefers direct deposit. (You can’t collect Ontario Works, for instance, in cash.) Allowing banks to close forces people into the hands of cheque-cashers, who charge about $3, +3% of the value of the cheque: a whopping $33 on a $1000 payday.
Worse, the people who will pay are those least able to: the poor, less-literate, and less mobile. Being gouged by MoneyMart makes a lot more sense when you’re faced with a 90-minute walk or a $6.50 fare and a snowy hour waiting for buses.
And then there are the knock-on, long-term effects. To open an RESP, get financial advice, or save in a TFSA, you need to have a branch. None of it can be done online. Pulling out banks means pushing people to the financial margins, and that will make our community poorer in the long run. You need to be close to a banker to pull ahead.
Of course some of us—those with cars, $100 cellphone plans, and the wherewithal to direct-deposit our infrequent cheques by photograph—we will all be fine. After all, I didn’t know people still use passbooks because I hadn’t stood in line for years.
But you can’t both curse a bank’s Friday lineup and say we don’t need it.