The looming closure of the only bank in a small Manitoba community has residents upset and demanding a solution that doesn't involve leaving town to do their banking.
CIBC announced plans in December to close its branch in Elkhorn, Man., a village of 461 people about 300 kilometres west of Winnipeg along the Trans-Canada Highway, and move accounts to the branch in Virden, a 30-kilometre drive away.
CIBC held a meeting in Elkhorn on Tuesday night to answer questions from residents, many of whom were not happy about yet another service disappearing from rural Manitoba.
- Manitoba Public Insurance no longer sending estimators to 20 rural communities
- Manitoba's disappearing rural museums focus of new documentary
"A lot of people were extremely angry," said Mark Humphries, president of the Elkhorn chamber of commerce.
He was one of the people in attendance at Tuesday's meeting.
"They were upset that they have been given no [prior] chance to discuss it," he said. "It's a bit of a blow."
"Any time we look at closing a banking centre, it's a decision that we take very carefully," a CIBC spokesperson said in an email to CBC.
"In the case of our Elkhorn Banking Centre, we have seen low business volumes, which have been declining in recent years."
CIBC also said it will offer help to clients over the phone and in the branch for the transition.
But Humphries said a notice residents received by mail in December indicated the bank's decision was final and as a result, many didn't attend Tuesday's meeting. Still, he estimated between 80 and 100 people showed up, many of them older residents who still do their banking in person.
"A lot of them have ceased driving," he said. "A lot of them don't like to drive, especially in these winter conditions. That's a great big disadvantage to these guys."
The bank has been in Elkhorn in some capacity for nearly 115 years, Humphries said, and for some it's the only bank they've ever used.
A notice on the bank's website said accounts at the Elkhorn branch would be merged with those in Virden on Aug. 18, 2017, when the branch will close its doors for good.
Moosomin, Virden nearest branches
Humphries said the bank's closure will mean those wanting to do bank business in person will have to drive to Virden or Moosomin, Sask., just across the provincial border.
The local Co-op has an ATM in-store that can dispense cash for a fee, but residents are looking for cheque cashing and other services, he said.
"A fair few of them, even in today's day, don't have the computers, don't have the iPhones, don't have the technology and the ability to control that technology for direct banking," Humphries said.
He said the bank has offered to help teach community members how to use computers and other technology to do their banking.
But it's not just residents who will feel the effects of the only bank disappearing — the local business community will also be affected, Humphries said.
"We've all lost now our ability to deposit cash and cheques at the branch," said Humphries, who owns a business. "It's going to [mean] extra mileage ... to go do the daily banking.
"We think there is still a lot of value to be had out of Elkhorn and its business community."
He said residents were unimpressed with the bank's response on Tuesday night.
"CIBC are a well-oiled, slick machine," he said. "They fended off nearly every question with a polite answer … but the answers weren't of any substance."
He said he didn't get an answer when he asked if the building will have a non-compete clause when it goes up for sale, which would prevent another bank from opening in the space. But instead of getting angry and giving up, he's hoping to find a solution.
Chamber looking for new bank
"We've tried to look on the positive side," he said, adding that the chamber has struck a committee hoping to find another financial institution to fill the space when CIBC closes in August.
Humphries said the chamber has put feelers out to a few banks and credit unions, hoping one steps up.
It's not the first service to pull out of the small town. Last September, Manitoba Public Insurance said Elkhorn, along with 19 other Manitoba towns, would no longer be serviced by mobile estimators.
Humphries is hopeful rural decline won't take their bank away in the end.
"We certainly are not going to give in," he said, admitting that it could be a long, drawn-out process to find another bank willing to service the town.
"We are a go-ahead, forward-thinking, growing town."