Jason Hextell’s little note to himself “not to swear” on Friday night was always going to be a big ask.
The tradie, fast food shop owner and firefighter hopes the larger note he handed to NAB executives at a public meeting at Club Narooma will be more successful.
NAB retail executive general manager Krissie Jones and regional customer executive Marnie Boyd accepted on August 24 a petition with some 1500 signatures, urging the bank not to close its Narooma branch.
The planned September closure was a bombshell that has had Mr Hextell cussing more than once.
“I am sorry Marnie,” he admitted at the start of the meeting.
“The other night you rang me at the chicken shop, and a few F-bombs come out, but I promise I won’t say any tonight.”
If he did let a few slip it won him few enemies in the crowd.
Many shared his outrage at being asked to conduct their banking from next month at the post office – an establishment whose staff they universally admire, but whose facilities they say are woefully inadequate for businesses.
Two years ago, Mr Hextell switched his business to NAB when Westpac left town – and is furious at the prospect of more upheaval.
“I changed everything over from Westpac; I thought, if you are not supporting our town, I am freakin’ out of here,” he said.
“Since then, we have had the balls to open a chicken shop and Matty (NAB business banker) backed us. It has been hard yakka and we have got there. We are employing staff, doing the best we can for the town.”
It is a town Mr Hextell says deserves better.
“Narooma is the sort of community that everyone who is anyone gets involved,” he said.
“Narooma prides itself on community-based activities. I have been a member of the surf club, junior rugby league, senior rugby league, I have played football here. I rode three (George Bass Surfboat Marathons) Basses with Chris Young up there, who owns the cabinet shop.
“I am in Fire and Rescue NSW. I have been away just last week fighting fires. That is what Narooma is. We look after each other.
“We deserve a bank,” he said to rousing applause.
“I don’t want this place to die. My two boys say, Dad you are a d...head, you are embarrassing us. I don’t care.”
Businessman Phil Constable had the task of editing Mr Hextell’s draft petition, replaced words such as “totally pissed off” with “disheartened”.
At the meeting, other business owners shared their concerns about having to rely on the post office for large amounts of change, for floats and for the day’s takings.
Privacy and security were raised, including by Ian and Leonie Stephens, the owners of the Dalmeny IGA, robbed at knife point last week.
“I won't consider driving my money to another branch,” Mr Stephens said. “The only alternative we have is to change banks. It is very disappointing because we have banked with the NAB for 20 years.”
Many were angry the bank gave just 12 weeks’ notice of its intentions.
“I haven’t got F-bomb time to organise what I need to do prior to the busy season,” Mr Hextell said.
Ms Jones said she was there to listen and relay concerns: “Closing a branch is a really difficult decision. We take in account many different factors, such as how are our customers banking, what are the services they are using, what are the distances to the next town?
“My plan is to come back to with a plan about how we can address those concerns. I would like to know other things we could offer outside of having a building in town that would make a difference to your community and to the way you bank.”
Laurelle Pacey asked directly if the bank would reconsider.
“At this point in time our intent is to close the branch on the 26th of September,” Ms Jones said.
“We believe there are services offered within the town, including (at Australia Post) that cover 95 per cent of the transactions.”
Mandy Hall questioned the figures the bank relied on and wondered if businesses registered at the Bega branch, but who primarily banked in Narooma, were considered.
She said the personal touch had already suffered: “My mum has banked at that branch for more than 60 years; the last three times she has been asked for her driver’s licence.”
Ms Boyd said the bank understood current staffing had not been perfect, due to illness and unplanned leave.
Australian Post's general manager of financial services Deanne Keetelaar acknowledged current services were “largely designed for consumer banking”. “Whilst best efforts are provided by the wonderful service of our post office network, our licensed post offices and our corporate post offices, (there) does need to be some change,” she said.
“We are working with the banks. There are some we won't be able to do … but the coin floats, the deposit limits, the ability to do express business deposits, are absolutely things we want to do.”
Privacy, she said, would be improved. However, one speaker said it was unfair the pressure was now on Australia Post staff.
“It is actually your problem,” she told NAB officials. “We all want to stay with NAB, but you are really not giving us much opportunity.”
Tony McDonald owns the building NAB occupies and earned a round of applause for this suggestion: “The bank is paying me for 22 months to have that building. I don't know why the bank is not staying there for those 22 months and offering this town the service. This decision is very irresponsible. The demographic of this community is older generation. They like banks.”
Bega MP Andrew Constance said he had raised the issue in the NSW Parliament.
“For a bank to do this in the middle of drought, with a royal commission on and everyone losing their faith in the banks, is a terrible corporate decision,” he said.
“Rural and regional people work damn hard and they expect … their large corporate leadership to work just as hard. This is not about profits, it is about people.
“It is not good enough that the NAB suggests you can go to other branches … people will shop away from our local retailers. The post office is completely inappropriate venue. I would plead with you to take it back to management at a corporate level and say please. The bottom line is it would be really damaging to your corporate brand.”
Narooma Sporting and Services Club president Graham Reeve had a $4.5 million reason to be disheartened.
“The way this was done was totally unprofessional. We sat down with the NAB in June (2017) to negotiate a new loan. We had just concluded a $5 million loan,” he said.
He said his query about rumours the branch would close were dismissed – only to be confirmed four months later. Mr Reeve backed the concerns of other businesses.
“One of the biggest issues with the post office is security; you are going to set up a hold-up, easy as that,” he said.
“You want to go back to your people and say ‘you don't do business this way’.
Ms Pacey called for further investigation into the the bank’s data: “There is a mass exodus from NAB. Are they prepared to lose so many millions of dollars in accounts?”
“Unfortunately from time to time do close branches, so we have factored that in,” Ms Jones said.
“We would love to retain all of our customers but understand there are concerns. We will be taking those down and seeing how we can respond.”
Keeping faith mattered to another speaker.
“Have you factored in our loyalty to you? My loyalty to you has been for 44 years,” he said.
“Your loyalty to me was less than two months. Someone has sat down and said, we can afford to lose $2 or $3 million and a few customers because we are going to pay a better dividend. All we are talking about is your profit and loss - is that correct?
Ms Jones said the decision came down to customers’ behaviour.
“What we are actually talking about is how our customers' behaviour has changed. That is what has driven the decision. We do take into account loyalty and 44 years. I recognise it is a very long time and are grateful for that loyalty. I am sorry we have made this decision. I have taken on board feedback around the process of communication for this closure.”
A former NAB worker and current customer earned applause for asking the bank to respect customers by giving them more time to adjust. She said the bank had encouraged customers to change how they banked over the years – and they should not pay for heeding that encouragement.
“I was a really proud worker for NAB for 13 years, really proud of the community, really proud of NAB,” she said.
“We have actively encouraged and courted these customers who have stepped up to accept internet banking, ATM use.
“We have actively done that over two years. So, to base figures on what is happening across the counter now discounts all the work these guys have done to keep up with banking. The banks need customers, the customers need banks. What they are asking for is some respect and some time to make those adjustments.”
Another speaker was applauded after explaining she and a partner had opened a business two years ago and were “here for the long haul”.
“Take back to your senior people, your motto is ‘more than money’. I would like to know what more than money means if it does not mean supporting the communities in which you live.”
Eurobodalla Shire Councillor and former small business owner Rob Pollock showed heart to chair the meeting within a couple of days of undergoing the insertion of a stent in Canberra, following a heart attack about six weeks ago.
He said Friday’s meeting was not about “getting a resolution tonight”. “It was a forum to get the major concerns out to both the institutions (NAB and Australia Post).”
Another customer wondered if an ATM would be installed at the post office – which earned an offer from Mr Hextell to NAB: “I will rent you a window at the chicken shop – about $5000 a week.”
Businessman Peter Howe said NAB counter staff in Narooma had “been brilliant”, but “we are still going to the CBA because they are just as good and better and they have done everything to make it easy for me to shift two dozen accounts”.
“You guys were brilliant - what are you doing? It does not make sense. How can you afford to lose all of these businesses? Some of these guys are enormous.”
Cr Pollock closed the meeting by commended the NAB representatives for having “the courage to come”.
“I would like to thank all of you for the respect and the way the evening has been conducted,” he said.
After the meeting, Ms Jones said she would return to the organisers “with some options”.
“It is important we take away the feedback and we think about what we can do. We want to listen to communities.”