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Wanted: One buyer for 22 bank buildings

12 May 2010
Wanted: One buyer for 22 bank buildings in rural towns in the Free State and Northern Cape.

After First National Bank (FNB) recently decided to close 31 branches in rural towns in these two provinces, some of the towns decided to buy the existing FNB building in their town to house credit-and-save corporations.

Talks were held with FNB on the matter until the banking group made a business decision to advertise the 22 buildings it owns (it leased the rest in other towns) in one tender.

Who will be interested in buying these properties in one transaction?

“Maybe a retail group looking to expand its footprint in rural areas,” says Steve Higgins, spokesperson for FNB.

Or maybe another banking group? Higgins didn’t want to comment on this, but rumours in Free State towns move inexorably in this direction.

Two banks are mentioned in this regard: Capitec, the bank with the low-cost business model, and Standard Bank, which still owns a building in Vredefort although it doesn’t do business there anymore.

“Capitec is enlarging its branch network where there is a need and we are on the look-out for market opportunities,” says Sumarie Brand, head of communications and PR. But she denies that the banking group has any plans to open branches in buildings where FNB is withdrawing.

Ross Linstrom, a spokesperson for Standard Bank, said the bank “is always looking for new business opportunities”.

He said the bank don’t have any plans to close branches in rural areas. In fact, renovations are on the cards for existing branches in towns like Ladybrand, Kuruman and Kathu.

Where does this leave communities that consider the opening of credit-and-save corporations? Towns like Ventersburg, Philippolis and Boshoff are seriously considering such a move.

“We are forging ahead with our plans and will submit a tender for all 22 properties when FNB advertises them,” says Jaap Kelder, chairperson of the National Ratepayers Union (NRU) which is helping with the coordination of the establishment of these corporations.

Even if the tender is unsuccessful, communities will run their credit-and-save corporations from different premises, says Maxi Badenhorst, businesswoman from Ventersburg and Free State organiser of the credit-and-save corporation project.

“We really have no other choice. On Monday there will be no banks in this town. Businesses can’t each cough up R3k per month to take our cash to Hennenman and if we do it ourselves, we’ll be ambushed and robbed.”

FNB has meanwhile announced the branch in Clocolan won’t be closing anymore and that an agency in Winburg will still be open.

Higgins says there is also an undertaking to install new automatic deposit terminals where branches are closing down.

“If they haven’t already been installed, it will happen soon.” – Vida Booysen, Sake24

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