Pender Island to lose its bank, as Island Savings closes branch

For the second time in less than a decade, Pender Island faces a future without a bank.

Island Savings, which stepped in and opened a branch in 2012 when HSBC Canada decided to close its Pender location, will close its Pender outlet Nov. 10.

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“Our members are increasingly handling their banking online or through our member advice centre, which means their branch visits are more for advice-driven conversations,” said Kendall Gross, president of Island Savings, in a statement.

Gross said the trend has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As result, we are consolidating our branch network, investing in technology and creating new front-line roles to meet the evolving needs of our members and remain a financially strong member-owned co-operative during a time of considerable economic uncertainty.”

The closure affects four part-time employees, while one full-time employee will stay with Island Savings on Pender to offer financial planning and advice through in-person meetings, email and phone.

Island Savings, a division of mainland-based First West Credit Union, has said it will offer rebates to those using non-Island Savings ATMs for cash withdrawals, online banking and service at one of its 12 Vancouver Island branches. The ATM rebate is capped at $15 per month for every Pender Island member, and all Pender Island members will receive the full $15 per month for three months, regardless of whether they make ATM withdrawals.

Pender residents who contacted Times Colonist said they are disappointed they will be forced to take a ferry to do in-branch banking.

Some wondered how tradespeople, who are often paid in cash for small projects, would be able to deposit cash.

One member said shifting to the Brentwood Bay branch — the closest Island Savings branch to Pender — will result in “hours of travel, waiting for sparse ferry sailings, amounting to a whole day of time just to get to the bank.”

Members also expressed concern with online banking, given that Pender has had trouble with unreliable or slow Internet connections.

Evan Llewellyn, president of Solstice Theatre, posted on Facebook that the theatre was deeply disappointed in the decision and that like many small businesses on the island, it had relied on the credit union.

“We consider our credit union a pillar of our community, and we intend to make our feelings known to the Island Savings management,” he wrote. “We are also extremely sorry to hear that our friends and neighbours, who work there and do a remarkable job, will be losing their livelihood. This is a sad day for Pender, but we hope this decision may be reversed.”

Several Pender residents, posting on Facebook’s Pender Island Forum, said they intended to close their accounts and take them to another bank in Sidney.

Others said they had contacted Vancity about the possibility of opening a branch on Pender.

Island Savings, which had been based in Duncan before members voted in 2014 to merge with First West, told its then 70,000 members the merger would mean members would have access to some of the most competitive products in the marketplace, without having to give up local decision-making.

In a statement sent to the Times Colonist, Island Savings said the decision to merge with First West Credit Union and to close the Pender Island branch shows members care about the financial future of Island Savings. “[It] was a difficult but necessary step to ensure the continued long-term health and strength of the credit union at a time when the future of the global and Canadian economy is so uncertain,” it said.

Island Savings also pointed to a steady decline in visits to the Pender Island branch before the pandemic began.

It said members can look forward to a “new online banking experience built on renowned, industry-leading technology” that will be implemented before the end of the year.

Island Savings will also be closing its Ladysmith branch.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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