The Desjardins Group says it will cut its service centres and ATMs by 30 per cent before 2027.
Spokesperson Jean-Benoît Turcotti says the boards overseeing the 200-plus credit unions that comprise the organization made the decision after analyzing how frequently the outlets were used.
Desjardins says it will be up to those boards to decide which centres and ATMs in Quebec and Ontario will shut down, as they are in the best position to assess their communities' needs.
Turcotti says the figures, first reported by Le Soleil, could change depending on how many people use in-person services compared to digital platforms.
In October, the Montreal-based financial services conglomerate said it would lay off nearly 400 people, or about 0.6 per cent of its workforce, due to what it described as the "current economic context."
At a time when financial transactions are increasingly online or by card, Desjardins has already closed several dozen service points and ATMs since 2022.
Desjardins says that by the end of last year, its 669 service counters accounted for just one per cent of transaction volume, while its 1,559 ATMs accounted for three per cent.
In an interview on Radio-Canada's Tout un matin Wednesday, Nathalie Larue, executive vice-president of personal services at Desjardins, said members are increasing relying on online tools.
"We saw significant increases during the pandemic, although it was a trend that had been ongoing for several years," said Larue.
The rising demand from Desjardins' clients for online appointments rather than in-branch visits also factors into the decision, said Larue.
Concern for seniors who rely service
Regarding the closures themselves, Desjardins has not established a list of service centres and ATMs that will be closed.
When Desjardins removes either a service centre or an ATM, it's because it sees that its usage no longer justifies its maintenance, said Larue.
Guy Hallé is among those concerned that Desjardins may be closing his local access points in the Eastern Townships. He said it will be hard for people without computers to carry out bank transactions.
Finance Minister Eric Girard says he trusts Desjardins and that decisions have to take into account all stakeholders' interests, including the institution's. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/CBC)
In a statement, a seniors' advocacy group, the Fédération de l'âge d'Or du Québec (FADOQ), said the closures will affect those who still rely on in-person services.
Closing service centres is also unfortunate, the statement says, because they contribute to the local, economic vitality of communities.
"We have been offering workshops to our members for several years to familiarize them with new information and communication technologies, as well as tips and tricks to help them become more informed digital citizens," the statement said.
Girard says he trusts in Desjardins
Concerns have been raised about the impact on smaller communities where the closure of ATMs could mean people will lose their only access to cash on a local level.
Quebec Finance Minister Eric Girard said on Wednesday that it will be more challenging for regions, but he does not believe Desjardins is withdrawing from them altogether.
"I trust them," he said. "When you make difficult decisions as a business, you have to take into account all stakeholders: The community, employees, members, Desjardins' interest; it's not an easy matter."
Desjardins has always been present in the regions, and it will continue to be, said Girard.
David Dupuis manages undergraduate economic studies at the Université de Sherbrooke's school of management. He said this decision is a sign of the times.
"What we observe today is a decline in demand for this type of service, and Desjardins is simply reacting to protect its margins," he said, noting this type of decision is not exclusive to the banking sector, as other industries are responding to the way consumers increasingly access goods and services online rather than in person.