Thunder Bay

Bank closures in rural communities impact access, equity says professor

Bank closures are happening across the country and its impact on rural communities may be posing an issue.

CIBC in Victoriaville Mall closing this fall, meaning 1 fewer bank in the Fort William business district

The Victoriaville Mall CIBC in Thunder Bay, Ont., are closing their doors this fall. A spokesperson for the bank says all accounts will automatically be moved to another branch and all employees of will be transferred to other locations. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

CIBC is closing its doors in Victoriaville Mall this fall, the latest of a string of neighbourhood banks that have closed over the years. The impact these closings have on smaller communities plays a huge role in the way people access financial services.

In the last few years, Beardmore, Marathon and Atikokan have all lost local bank branches. When both CIBC and TD closed in Atikokan last year, it left that town with just one bank remaining. Sean Markey, Professor of planning at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, says the closures are now common as banks find new ways to service smaller communities.

"It's a common story that's happening across the country ... as institutions like banks and other agencies try to figure out how to service rural populations."

Markey says bank closures have a far bigger impact beyond the closures of a particular service. 

"I'm always interested in what banks or other agencies are doing to try to replace the services through other means," said Markey.

He says the closing of banks in rural communities mean the loss of decent paying jobs and bank closures can impact small business as they lack access to financial services. He also says that banks may be taking alternative approaches to their services, which may not be accessible to all people.

"There could be issues of equity and access. Banks and other agencies like that might point to online services as a way for people to continue to access their services. But the people that have limited access to online [in] rural and small towns, often face challenges with decent broadband."

"They're essentially losing out on an important service and may be forced to travel longer distances to get the same service."

Sean Markey is a professor of planning at the School of Resource and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University. (CBC)

Markey says banks are traditionally considered institutions providing anchored stability and services within the community. When those services are lost, it can impact neighbourhoods as well.

"They can provide ... sort of an anchor placement in neighbourhoods in different business districts. So that sort of community economic development approach in terms of how well are we supporting a local economy, are we sort of gutting out a particular business district and what is the impact going to be on the community — all of this really speaks to the need to consider an investment mentality in making these decisions," said Markey.

Even if there are other brick and mortar locations of any particular bank in the city, Markey says it shouldn't ignore that the loss of locations can still play a significant role in access.

"Travel time for people, the weather across Canada in the winter isn't always that wonderful and it introduces issues of safety and concerns like that." Markey said.

"Simply expecting rural residents to travel farther [in distance] presents other challenges that might not be a part of the calculation."