News that Norway’s SpareBank1 was closing half of its 31 branches in Northern Norway hit the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard especially hard this week. Sparebank1 has been the only bank with a presence in Svalbard, and residents are unhappy.
“This came as a complete surprise to us,” Trond Hellstad, chief of the bank branch in Svalbard’s capital of Longyearbyen, told state broadcaster NRK. Stein Tore Pedersen, who’s been a life-long customer of Sparebank1 Nord-Norge, said he doesn’t think the bank’s board “has taken into consideration the role in the community that the bank actually has.”
Svalbard is also home to many foreign workers, while cruiseship tourists have traditionally used various currencies when visiting the Arctic islands. “It will be difficult for us to operate,” Signe Kolborg Mørk, who runs a souvenir shop in Longyearbyen. “Where will we be able to exchange currency? Will we still have a nightsafe?” Other businesses were also concerned about how they’ll be able to operate, with the nearest bank an airline flight away in Tromsø.
There was little if any sympathy from Sparebank1, with a spokesman telling NRK that “a decision has been made and it’s final. The bank in Svalbard will be shut down.” Banks have steadily been closing branches around Norway for years, forcing customers over to online banking and discouraging them from using cash. Sparebank1 also aims to cut its costs by NOK 40 million.