The CIBC branch in Fort Simpson. Photo: Sean Whelly
Fort Simpson’s only bank has reopened, and residents say the recurring problem of bank closures disrupting basic transactions seems to be behind them.
Last month, tensions came to a head when the village CIBC branch closed for two weeks straight, leaving ATMs drained of cash and no clear timeline for those machines to be restocked and the bank reopened.
Inconsistency of access has been a persistent issue for the better part of this year, affecting not only Fort Simpson residents but also people in nearby Wrigley, Jean Marie River and Nahanni Butte, all of whom rely on the same bank.
A lack of staff was one reason for the closures. Last month, CIBC said more workers were on the way, calling its problems in Fort Simpson an “extraordinary and difficult situation.”
Since the branch reopened on September 20, the issue feels resolved, said acting Fort Simpson senior administrative officer Mitch Gast.
“As far as council’s concerned, they’re very, very happy. Any residents I’ve spoken to are very, very happy,” said Gast. “I applaud the efforts CIBC put forth in getting permanent employees into town.”
“A new leader for our banking centre started last week, joining a long-tenured team member,” wrote Tom Wallis, a spokesperson for CIBC. “Additional team members will follow as we ensure we have the staffing needed to support our clients.”
Residents can expect another full-time employee at the bank in the coming days, and CIBC is “actively working to add a fourth full-time member”, according to Wallis.
“We remain focused on helping clients achieve their financial goals and ambitions,” Wallis wrote. “We also understand the importance of providing our clients with the financial services they need.”
Many residents of Fort Simpson and the surrounding communities, especially Elders, rely on cash, meaning extended bank closures can have serious consequences.
“A lot of people are cash-only in this town,” said Gast.
During the September period when the bank was closed and ATMs were empty, some residents struggled to access money to pay bills.
Shauna Rae Sibbeston, a resident of Fort Simpson, said things are “way better since it’s reopened.”
“It kind-of sucked while they were closed because there’s a lot of Elders that were without money and they really needed groceries,” said Sibbeston. “So, it’s good that they’re open now. Especially for the Elders that need money and that need food.”
Sibbeston was affected by the closure herself.
After discovering fraudulent activity on her debit card, CIBC cancelled it. She needed access to a branch to have a new one issued.
“The day that they cancelled it was the day that they shut down the bank,” Sibbeston said.
“I wasn’t able to get a new one. I was without a card for maybe a couple weeks.
“I had to send money to my common-law so I could pay for my bills and get groceries for my kids.”
Since the CIBC reopened, Sibbeston said “everyone is happy now.”
“We are a remote community, so it does take time to get these things fixed,” said Gast. “Their corporate communication has been fantastic.”
“We have worked as quickly as possible to recruit the team members needed to ensure we can serve our clients,” Wallis wrote.
“With the recent forest fires, we understand it has been a particularly challenging time for many … and are working to ensure that our team is there to serve the Fort Simpson community.”