The Queenstown banking crisis

“You can’t get a bank account unless you have a job.” The woman behind the counter repeats. No empathy, no humanity. Just boredom.

“But… to get a job here you need a bank account first.” I reply, frowning. She shrugs.

“Sorry. But the banks all agreed it two months ago.”

“But… I’m trying to give you my money. You’re a bank.” I struggle to grasp the concept the woman is outlining.

“There’s nothing we can do. All the banks in Queenstown made an agreement.” I put my backpack down, heavy from so many CVs and cover letters after an exhausting morning of job-hunting. She looks concerned I seem to be settling in rather than leaving.

“Why?” I ask. She sighs, her eyes flick to the queue behind me, all of one elderly man reading the paper.

“Because we can’t spend all day opening short-term bank accounts. We have targets to reach. Our shareholders are losing money because of it. We really can’t help you.” She says it all slowly, as if I had just asked her how to spell ‘bank’.

I leave, feeling slightly numb at the financial system in Queenstown. Then I begin to get angry.

If I were a mid-thirties stay-at-home mum living in town, would they tell me I’d need to get a job before I bank with them? Would they dare to be so presumptuous then? Or if I were a millionaire, would they tell me to go away until I could prove my employment?

I have been stereotyped into Category A: ‘Lazy’ seasonnaire. By being placed into Category A, it is automatically assumed I am:

  • Poor (true) so cannot earn the bank any money
  • Unlikely to have a job because I am too lazy or irresponsible (untrue)
  • Unwilling to commit to longer than a season (it’s none of their business)
  • A waste of their time (…)

Seasonnaires are not lazy or irresponsible. I know enough of them who’ve dedicated hours training on the slopes, who’ve studied for years to get PHDs, who’ve managed companies in London, who’re just taking a breather to figure out which path to step onto next. Seasonnaires have all sorts of reasons to follow their passion for snow, haven’t we learnt by now never to judge someone by how they look, what they do, or how much they own??

When I finally did get a part-time job (by divine luck and good timing), I walked back into the bank and found the same woman free behind the desk.

“I’d like to open a bank account with you please.” I say, thinking what a whopping lie that was.

“Do you have proof of address and employment.” She replies robotically, not even looking up from her screen.

“Yes and yes.”

“Does your employer bank with us.”

“Er…No…” I stutter, feeling my heart beat harder slightly.

“Then we can’t help you.” She taps her keyboard some more, and then, sensing I’ve not left yet, finally looks up. Wow. All natural warmth from her eyes has gone, as if she’s worked for years for an organisation that eats souls on toast for breakfast. Oh. Wait.

“Why… can’t you help me.” I ask the eyes slowly.

“You can only open an account with the bank your employer is with. The banks agreed it a few months ago.”

“So even if I came in here and just wanted to open a general account with you guys, as well as having an account with another bank, you wouldn’t let me?” she nods once.

“There’s too many people wanting accounts. That’s just how it is.”

I’m dumbfounded. Isn’t that what banks do? To bank money? How can they just change the rules like that? If all the Queenstown banks can just have a little pow wow over a ferg berger on the beach and say, hey, guys, let’s make it super hard for those young seasonnaires coming into our town to bank anything because they take up way too much of our time, what the HELL is stopping them from making up a load of other financial rules that benefit them and ONLY them?

Oh god. The Queenstown banking crisis is a microcosm of everything wrong with the financial system on a global scale. It’s all just made up numbers, bits of paper, and rules that change to suit whoever it pleases.

“Right.” I whisper, and put away my proof of documents back in my bag. The powerlessness is overwhelming.

“Sorry. We really-”

“ – Can’t help me? Yeah, I’d figured that.”

Rosie’s top tips:

Queenstown banks are refusing to give seasonnaires bank accounts unless they have proof of address and proof of employment.

Dress smart, go alone. You never know, if you don’t look like a seasonnaire, they might not treat you like one.

Your employers must bank with them – it’s a new made up rule.

If you’re not employed, try to prove you have sufficient income.

Kiwi bank are the friendliest bank. Try them first.

Expect a 5 – 7 day wait until you can get an appointment, unless you ask to put your name on a waiting list.

When you get an appointment make sure you bring all your documents with you and your proof of ID.

A lot of the charges – $10 for a debit card/ $5 extras are completely made up. Try to argue your case and get them knocked off.

Why is this happening?

I have been here one week, so am not an expert by any means, but what I can see is Queenstown is currently in a state of change. The town is being swamped with people arriving to work for the season, each year it has become increasingly popular. However, without any housing being built, rent is going higher, and the cost of living becomes more expensive. More people need to get part time jobs to survive the season, and so need to open bank accounts. The banks are saturated with appointments, and their solution is to increase their criteria for those who bank with them, to make it harder so fewer people can apply.

 

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21 thoughts on “The Queenstown banking crisis

  1. OMG! I lived in Queenstown for over 7 years (Im a kiwi) and the town is definitely a little law unto itself. It’s their job; if its such as issue with multiple accounts being setup, then assign a couple of people to doing just that, opening accounts. Their targets are not your issue.
    Im guessing by your post there were no indications that the ‘local’ banks had made these decisions and displayed this for your consideration?
    But first and foremost; surely they can not do this. This is discrimination – I would look into this (Fair trading Act, Consumer Guarantee act) This is utter BS, and leaves me disappointed and angry that you have been treated like this. Its disgusting.

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  2. Disgusted and not surprised at all.
    Lived here for 26 years and the Queenstown Bank of New Zealand has pulled some laughable moves in that time. One lady wouldn’t serve me because I was wearing a hat. Another bizarre episode was when I was building a business plan and needed advice, the bank lady just said flat out “No, I won’t help you”. Then scooped up her pen and left !!!!

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    1. You can’t wear a hat in a bank for security reasons and bankers are not allowed to give ‘advise’ as they are not qualified to do so and can therefore be issued fines.

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  3. Wow am shocked at this. Lived here for 12 years and can’t believe how much things have changed. Really changing as a town and not for the better.

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  4. Rosie, I empathise in some areas with you, but on many of your points you just have no idea.

    FYI, I recently opened my bank account in Queenstown and am here for my second Winter. I think I’ll leave my account open this off-season! Anyway, I had to wait 8 days – bugger was my first thought. But how many people do the ski fields employ? A thousand, at least. Add everyone else who’s has come to ski during the day and works bars, restaurants, hospo etc in the evenings, then divide them in to about 5 banks. 8 days didn’t seem so bad all of a sudden. Also, some of my mates spent two weeks on the piss here in town before getting around to open their accounts. Then they were angry thatthey had to wait a week or so to open their account as “they were starting work on Monday”. I love them, but come on… exercise some common sense lads.

    I too found some banks unaccommodating, even downright rude, however, a few were happy to explain the “why” behind certain things and also told me they had heard of certain banks refusing employees of the ski fields because the ski fields didn’t bank with them… I feel this might be bordering on illegal and it will be interesting to see if anything comes of it.

    Regarding the proof of address (and I would hazard a guess that all of the documents they require fall into this category), MY BANK were happy to explain this… Having a (correct) proof of address is a LEGAL REQUIREMENT. It is the law. International laws regarding anti money laundering and countering financial terrorism dictate this. The bank must comply. I checked into a hostel for one night, obtained this letter, then moved on. Simple.

    Also, common sense tells me that charges aren’t ‘made up’. They are, aptly named, fees. Just like when you park your car in a building – you pay a fee to leave it there for a few hours. The parking building (‘s owner) is providing a service, as is a bank. WHY do you expect your bank – a business (not a charity), to employ somebody to sit down with you for an hour and open your account. I know, from personal experience, a traveller’s money often goes out as quickly as it comes in, and then 4 months later the account has been closed – all to be repeated in 9 months’ time. Meanwhile, what did you give the bank /’business’? Not. A. Lot.

    But hey, that’s just my opinion – as a fellow ‘seasonaire’, but one who also understands that the rest of the world must operate in a certain manner and does not owe me a thing as a result of my own choices.

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    1. Hi Jack!
      Thanks for the comment, it’s clearly a hot topic at the moment. I arrived here on Thursday, and tried to open a bank account on Friday. I too got a letter from my hostel as proof of accomodation, and took my passport, but I was told I could not open an account without proof of employment. Then when I returned with proof of employment, I was told I could not open an account with them because my employer did not bank with them. I do think it’s important to raise the difficulties and inconsistencies of banking systems when they arise.
      Thanks for your comment,
      Rosie

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    2. Jack,

      An important thing to remember in this case is that the mandate that exists in order for a bank to be created is for that bank to first and foremost act as a public service.
      One with the power to operate as a business in order to stimulate the economy, but its function by law is to operate as a public service.

      As like most (but not all) countries, New Zealand law allows their banks to work to a 10% reserve ratio.
      This means (please research this point) that 90% of all deposits are available for the bank to use for investments and as loaning capital.
      So even a 4 month account with minimal deposits allows the bank legal access to those deposits to create new loans (earning the bank money via interest) and also to invest in the open market with a huge earning potential.
      Whilst they are allowed to utilise 90% of your deposits they must also allow you access to 100% of the funds deposited into your account.
      This is achieved through bank credit.
      Bank credit is the creation of currency (money) in order to facilitate the practise of fractional reserve lending.
      So in actual fact your statement “what do you give the bank/buisness? not a lot”
      is incorrect.
      You give the bank a very large earning power from your deposits.
      You also create currency through your deposits which stimulates the local economy.

      I cannot say exactly why these banks have decided to make short term accounts difficult to obtain because I, like the rest of the general public, was not invited to the board meetings.
      However a safe guess is that either..

      The share holders are looking for even larger, long term earnings through the banks investments and loans.
      An account that stays open for longer increases the banks earning potential.
      Or the most likely factor is that a mass exodus of accounts all at the same time (e.g. a few thousand accounts end of season) will drain the banks reserves significantly and affect the long term projections for their shareholders.
      So not costing them, but reducing the profit margin.
      Its important to note these margins are generally in millions of dollars. Sometimes more.
      If the bank has unlawfully exceeded its 10% reserve ratio or has too many unstable investments, then this large closing of accounts may even force the bank to foreclose. A run on the banks. When a bank doesn’t have enough actual reserves to match the withdrawals.

      So yes, extra charges are simply greed. Not essential to the banks business.
      It cannot out-right deny an account to any citizen or any person in possession of a valid working visa.
      It can only bend the criteria needed to make it more difficult for “undesired” accounts.

      Most importantly Jack, you have missed the point of this article.
      It was clearly posted to provide a well needed insight for anyone considering a season in Queenstown and also as a source of empathy for people who are in the same stressful situation.

      The world owes you the compassion due to every person born into this world.
      Perhaps nothing more.
      But you owe it to yourself to investigate the world and research the systems you believe in.
      Especially before making judgments on others.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is crazy! When I was over there I was able to get a bank account (Kiwibank. They were always very sweet and helpful), but I was in Dunedin at the time and staying in a place short term. A shame that Queenstown banks feel a need to do this.

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  6. I think this is very strange if its really the situation you found yourself in. A lot of staff in Queenstown have ego issues, just look in the lakes weekly bulletin about bar staff who think they’re something special, and you can see Queenstown is to a certain degree, “up its own arse” so to speak…its a victim of being a beautiful place to live with more tourists wanting to come and work the summer and winter seasons than it can house and find jobs for..so its very demand driven.

    But in nz its very easy to open bank accounts and do banking and most things in general. I’m back in the uk – my home country – for a holiday finding again what a nightmare it is to do anything if you’re not a resident and without proof of address in the form of utility bills etc.. in nz 8 years ago i opened bank accounts in auckland with bnz, anz just with a passport and in Auckland and major cities you can get a bank card – same day – amazing as not possible in most countries, it has ‘customer name’ rather than your own name printed on it, but they do it and open it within minutes…no need for proof of earnings or anything, just a working holiday visa should suffice.. and as for charges, thats the point, they’re happy to open accounts for you as they charge $5 a month just for having the account and if you withdraw money from a different banks ATM they charge $1 or 50c, so they make good money off you even if you don’t have a salary coming in..in the uk you don’t pay at all if you have a positive balance, but you have hassles to open an account if you’re not a uk resident..even though THAT’S NOT A LEGAL REQUIREMENT..stupid huh!

    I recommend in Queenstown speaking with SBS if you still have trouble, they are a great bank, who are friendly and open and really want to help with your issues, unlike the big banks, they used to be southland building society.. as others have said if you struggle with this still, then maybe best to do it in dunedin or chch, where i’m sure they’re more open to an average backpacker opening an account.

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  7. I think this is very strange if its really the situation you found yourself in. A lot of staff in Queenstown have ego issues, just look in the lakes weekly bulletin about bar staff who think they’re something special, and you can see Queenstown is to a certain degree, “up its own arse” so to speak…its a victim of being a beautiful place to live with more tourists wanting to come and work the summer and winter seasons than it can house and find jobs for..so its very demand driven.

    But in nz its very easy to open bank accounts and do banking and most things in general. I’m back in the uk – my home country – for a holiday finding again what a nightmare it is to do anything if you’re not a resident and without proof of address in the form of utility bills etc.. in nz 8 years ago i opened bank accounts in auckland with bnz, anz just with a passport and in Auckland and major cities you can get a bank card – same day – amazing as not possible in most countries, it has ‘customer name’ rather than your own name printed on it, but they do it and open it within minutes…no need for proof of earnings or anything, just a working holiday visa should suffice.. and as for charges, thats the point, they’re happy to open accounts for you as they charge $5 a month just for having the account and if you withdraw money from a different banks ATM they charge $1 or 50c, so they make good money off you even if you don’t have a salary coming in..in the uk you don’t pay at all if you have a positive balance, but you have hassles to open an account if you’re not a uk resident..even though THAT’S NOT A LEGAL REQUIREMENT..stupid huh!

    I recommend in Queenstown speaking with SBS if you still have trouble, they are a great bank, who are friendly and open and really want to help with your issues, unlike the big banks, they used to be southland building society.. as others have said if you struggle with this still, then maybe best to do it in dunedin or chch, where i’m sure they’re more open to an average backpacker opening an account.

    Oh and for address proof, as with Aussie, you usually can just get a hostel you stay at to print out something like a receipt with your name and their address on it and then set up the account with that address. Then after that you can easily just go into the branch or go online and set the address to anything you want..perfect like things used to be, simple and easily customer focussed! not like in the uk where i need the utility proof or a bank statement when i no longer get written statements…have fun and if at first you don’t succeed…try try try again…or search online and find what ways you can cheat 😉

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  8. This bank situation is just a joke. What would happen to Queenstown without seasonairy workers?
    I arrived in March and I was already upset to wait 2 weeks to open an account ( I was lucky and a nice BNZ employee found an available spot for me at the Frankton branch for the same day). By that time, 3 distinct banks already refused to open accounts to people holding working holiday visa.

    Considering how much this town relies on part-time and seasonal workers, I believe that the city council should intervene. They do like that we pay taxes and we need tha bank account in order to have an IRD.

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  9. I would have thought it was illegal not to allow you to open a bank account when you can prove your identification and address. income or verification of income will have no bearing on whether a bank account would or would not be opened. I had been in banking for ten years and there was a time quite a few years ago we were asked by the bank to do credit check when opening an account but those days are long gone. All of the banks have sufficient measures in place to avoid the seasonal travelling overdrawing a new bank account…. It just seems ludicrous that they won’t open one and seems even more ludicrous that each individual bank has got together to conspire a strategy.. I would complain to the highest authority you could find in the banking system if that ever happened to me.

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  10. You ignorant buffoon. These are international banking policies put in place to prevent money laundering…….no one in any part of the country can open an account without proof of address. And you do not need an account to get a job. Once you get a job, take your contract to the bank show them, then they will give you an account which you can then give to your employer.

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    1. Sarah,

      did you read the article?

      The account was denied even with proof of address and job contract.
      The policy mentioned in the article that you must bank with your employers bank is not an international policy.

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  11. I think that you should contact the ombudsman responsible for banking/commerce and make a formal complaint. It would surprise me if this sort of collusion between banks to simply make rules that suit themselves is legal. Try the press too!

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  12. It’s not Queenstown. It’s for all of New Zealand. And only for those on a work holiday visa. If you have a work visa the rules are different again.

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  13. This is a great post. I’ve been living here four years, and seen this town change in the last two years so much more than it had in the previous ten (I first rocked up in 2004). Recently, I’ve been feeling like moving to Wanaka (mostly because I hate driving through town now – I look forward to a post about parking from you)… where, as it happens, someone at the bank was very rude to me the other day – clearly taking one look at me and assuming many of the points you mention, ultimately seeing me as a timewaster who didn’t know what I was doing. Whereas, in my former life, I was an accountant. Oh the irony.

    I see you’re four days in – from a four-year vet, stick with it and you’ll find amazing people and companies and reasons to put up with increasing bureaucracy and traffic lights.

    And I’d hope that for every bank teller that rolls their eyes at you, there’s another who finds the changes unjustified, has to follow the rules – but will be friendly about it (I’ve found their kind at Kiwibank by the way!).

    Look forward to reading more from you! I’m off to Canada in a couple of weeks but hit me up if you’d like to be introduced to any movers/shakers/magazine editors in the local writing community.

    Like

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