OPINION: Banking desert – coming soon to Chapelton

By Troy Levy

Decades and decades of research shows that bank branch closures always affect poor communities.

We know this as a fact, so too the banks.

Withdrawing full banking services provided with breathing, talking human beings, is like living in a community without fresh fruits and vegetables.

By the end of July 2018, Chapelton, Clarendon, will become a ‘banking desert’.

Financial malnutrition will set in, followed by shuttered and ruined businesses, withdrawal of transportation services, closure of schools for children of the farmers, hospital closure leading to more sick people without primary medical care, idlers who are the collateral from the closures – looking to blame someone….and dead carcasses of abandoned motor cars and appliances and equipment from shuttered buildings at the ready for demonstrations – the perfect cocktail for an overdose of crime and violence.

Maybe, just maybe, the St. Paul’s Anglican Church, founded over 300 years ago, will survive.

The best way to kill small businesses is to take away access to credit. The best way to kill a community is to deny access to credit to young upcoming entrepreneurs, and to deny access to banking services to the elderly and disabled.

Further, young people will find it hard to appreciate the encouragement to ‘save’ – now there’s no safe place to save in Chapelton, and now no culture to ‘save’.

Who cares about the farming community anyway; it’s mostly women. But wait, women head 50% of households in Jamaica, and women save more than men. And, women repay loans at a higher rate than men.

A primary government policy objective is to ensure local access to the banking system, in this case, the people of Chapelton have demanded that government intervene.

The fact that the two major banks in the country will be withdrawing from the same community within the same month, shows that they no longer believe that Chapelton is a viable community for them to make money, and that’s why banks are in business, to make money.

The banks will tell you that they, and they alone, choose which branches to close, and those decisions are related to local economic conditions that are correlated with credit demand. Branches will close in areas where current or forecast profitability is expected to be low.

People in Clarendon think this must be a cruel joke, being played on Chapelton.

Suppose you were told that to get to the nearest NCB bank branch after being a customer for 30 years, you will now have to drive 11+ miles (donkey terrain because the roads are so bad because of persistent rains, so that’s like an hour), or ride a bicycle for 2 hours, or walk for 4 hours.

If you bank with Scotiabank, you can go to Christiana, Manchester – drive 24 miles (dis a donkey and goat trail so you know is like 2 hours), or ride a bicycle for 5 hours, or walk for like 9 hours. These are the modes of transport available to people in Chapelton.

If you are a businessperson who makes large cash deposits, you need to consider this. While the police at the Chapelton Police Station willingly provide escort service to the local banks, they are not likely to accompany you, on the trek to May Pen or Christiana, and back.

So, you might not be as fortunate as the woman in May 2017, who was held up by a man outside the NCB Chapelton branch, on her way to make a $1 million in cash deposit. Even though the robber managed to grab a handful of cash ($100,000), it was the security guard inside the NCB branch who intervened! She walked away alive! Yes, no branch banking is a matter of life and death for people and communities.

The closure of both National Commercial Bank (NCB) in Chapelton and Scotiabank in Frankfield (12 miles from Chapelton), is going to have a negative impact on the community.

Why withdraw now? The Chapelton Community Hospital has been repaired. Business is booming in the town – try driving through on a Saturday morning, if the people don’t slow you down, the sight of the fresh produce in the market will.

Chapelton even has the good remnants of the railway that can, and will, be revived. Chapelton is not being left behind in the tourism boom taking place.

Future plans include a diverse marketing programme that will capitalize on the rich heritage of the town, whose town park entrance is guarded by the bust of Captain Cudjoe, famed Maroon leader, who resisted and fought back the advances of the British in 1690.

NCB said it will discontinue in-branch cash transactions in Chapelton, but three ABMs – including two intelligent ABMs – will facilitate cash transactions at the branch.

Chapelton’s famous Clock Tower commemorates all the fallen men and women in Clarendon, who died in World War 1 (1914 -1918). That school on the hill, Clarendon College, produced a number of “firsts” and some of the most brilliant and “boasy” people Jamaica has ever known. The place is just downright beautiful.

If anyone thinks that the 5,000 people in Chapelton don’t matter, they better think again. Chapelton people are Cudjoe fighters, from long, long time.

If NCB and Scotiabank do not want to be a part of the development of the community and the parish of Clarendon, then we welcome all competitors, and we know that a new bank branch will be coming soon to Chapelton, to turn it from a soon to be banking desert to an oasis with a thriving financial centre and a magnet for community transformation and sustainability – come join our revolution banks and credit unions, there’s big money to be made in Chapelton.

Troy Levy is a resident of Red Hills in Clarendon, and President of North Clarendon Bee Farmers Association.


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