A customer shows the RBC banking app on a mobile phone.

RBC faces reality of shift to online banking

Over its 100 years in Burns Lake, the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) has changed locations and buildings but one of its biggest changes is less visible: the shift to online banking.

LOOK BACK: Royal Bank of Canada marks 100 years in Burns Lake

That trend has seen more people make fewer visits to physical banks for their banking needs, since most can now be done online or through mobile devices.

“We’ve seen a large portion of our client base adopt mobile, online and telephone banking however some clients do choose to do their banking in person at our branches. With the evolution of our services, digital offerings and networks, we’ve been able to provide our clients with access to both digital and in-person financial support,” as Burns Lake branch manager Alice Harris told Lakes District News.

RBC joins the larger shift across the country, explained Mathieu Labrèche, spokesperson for the Canadian Bankers Association (CBA).

“While still an important part of the overall banking mix, in-branch banking is on the decline as Canadians increasingly choose digital channels to conduct their banking. According to How Canadians Bank, a CBA-commissioned poll of 4,000 adults, shows that only 12 per cent of Canadians say that their most common form of banking is conducted in-person, and 27 per cent of customers plan to decrease their bank branch visits within five years.”

Of more than 4,000 customers of the local RBC, about 29 per cent are active online or mobile banking users, a relatively low number compared to national trends.

But, as Labrèche pointed out, referring to the How Canadians Bank survey, which was conducted in December of last year, the attraction of new banking technology has won over most people.

A total of 91 per cent “believe that new technologies have made banking a lot more convenient”, more than 76 per cent of Canadians do banking online or with mobile devices and 88 per cent reported using online banking in the last year.

The trend has been accelerating as well, with 56 per cent of respondents last year reporting that they used app-based banking in the last 12 months, up from 44 per cent in 2016, and 31 per cent in 2014.

“These rapid developments in banking technologies have made it easier for customers to conduct many of their transactions anywhere, anytime and on any device,” Labrèche added. “For customers with accessibility issues the proliferation and increasing sophistication of digital banking services offer convenient barrier-free access to a growing range of services.”

However, the seeming shift to convenience hasn’t been convenient for everyone, as reduced activity at some banks has led to them closing down.

RELATED: Financial – and Vernon – institution leaving downtown

RELATED: RBC to close Apsley branch after nearly six decades

The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) branch in neighbouring Fraser Lake will shut down on Sept. 12 and consolidate with the Vanderhoof outlet. The planned move has left Fraser Lake residents feeling frustrated, especially elderly ones who have depended on in-branch services for most of their lives.

“In my experience, some seniors have adapted quite well to technology and will pay bills by phone or online, but, many folks in rural [areas] have dial-up [connections] and they’ve had problems with the CIBC app,” said Elaine Storey, a coordinator with Autumn Services Society for Senior Support.

“There are the many with little capacity to learn this automated bill paying system, who don’t own a cell phone or a computer. It’s those clients who are being left high and dry,” she said.

The consolidation of bank branches hasn’t just affected small communities, but it leaves those communities with fewer options. Fraser Lake, for example, will only have a Toronto Dominion Canada Trust ATM after Sept. 12.

READ MORE: Fraser Lake anxious over CIBC exit

Despite some physical banks closing, the number of branches across the country has been steady since 2012 and remain essential for customers, Labrèche said.

“Personal interaction will continue to play an important role as branches evolve into advice and information centres with a human dimension. Given the decrease in the demand for day-to-day banking, branches are being reimagined and becoming more specialized, where a variety of financial products, services and advice are also available,” he said.

For the time being, the Burns Lake RBC is working to balance both the in-branch and digital sides of its banking services.

“Over the years, as more and more of our clients adopt new technologies, including mobile and online banking, our branches have evolved to continue to provide clients with a seamless blend of in-branch service and advice, digital services, advice events, and mobile expert advisors who meet with our clients outside of the four walls of our branches,” Harris said.

Blair McBride
Multimedia reporter
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