Ocean County officials fear bank closures will impact seniors, other vulnerable people
Commissioners in Ocean County worry closures of brick-and-mortar banks are impacting senior citizens and the most vulnerable population.
With each branch closure comes a further commute and the switch to online banking. The switch to online banking in turn is impacting seniors, many who don't even own computers, who then must rely on others to handle their finances.
Empty banks line the streets and neighborhoods in the Brick and Toms River area, one of the most heavily traveled regions in all of Ocean County.
The number of banks serving customers plummeted by 24% since 2011. Earlier this fall, Ocean First Bank announced the closure of a number of branches throughout the county, adding to the void.
Ocean County commissioners unanimously passed a resolution Thursday that calls for state and federal agencies to review banking practices, including closures, that have a direct negative impact on seniors.
"What I'm trying to do as a county commissioner is go to the banking industry, go to the CEOs and say, 'You knnow something? We have to accommodate our senior citizens, our elderly veterans, and the low-income people," said Ocean County Commissioner Joseph Vicari.
While branches are closing, interactive teller machines are replacing banks in other areas. Ocean First Chairman and CEO Christopher Maher says he understands where Vicari's concerns come from but stresses businesses like Ocean First must remain strong at the same time.
"We need to be healthy, the business has to be healthy, and if you think about things like Blockbuster Video, Right? We can't let that Blockbuster moment hit us," Maher says. He adds that the bank is also working to accommodate their customers to online banking.
"If you're having a challenge using a mobile device, working with online banking, we're here to help. We have hundreds of employees that are trained to help you. If you can't get to our branches, we'll send an Uber, we'll pick you up, we'll bring you down to the branch, and we'll teach you how to do this stuff," Maher says.
A recent study showed the pandemic led all age groups to utilize digital and online banking more than ever before.
Vicari says he is not trying to hurt any existing banks and just wants to make sure the most vulnerable population in Ocean County is properly served.