OCEAN COUNTY – Local officials said they are worried that the transition to online banking is going to hurt the senior population, as brick and mortar banks close.
According to the NJ Division of Banking, the following local branches are closing:
- Barnegat: OceanFirst, 845 W. Bay Ave.
- Berkeley: Kearny Bank, 425 Route 9
- Berkeley: OceanFirst, 791 Route 9
- Freehold: OceanFirst, 34 East Main St.
- Manasquan: Kearny Bank, 155 Main Street
- Point Pleasant: OceanFirst, 3100 Route 88
- Point Pleasant Beach: 701 Arnold Ave.
- Red Bank: OceanFirst, 140 Broad St.
- Spring Lake Heights: OceanFirst, 2401 Route 71
- Tinton Falls: OceanFirst, 4050 Asbury Ave.
- West Long Branch: OceanFirst, 359 Monmouth Road
Commissioner Joseph Vicari said Ocean County has more than 200,000 senior citizens. Some of them can’t afford computers and the monthly internet costs that come with them. Many are unfamiliar or unwilling to try online banking.
Additionally, seniors are targeted by scammers, he said. A common scam is to convince the victim to send a money order. A bank teller is trained to look for red flags that one of their customers is being scammed. An online bank isn’t going to prevent that from happening.
“It hurts the most vulnerable,” he said. “The only people who benefit are the CEOs and shareholders.”
Although OceanFirst was one of the more visible changes – because they are a local chain – Vicari said it is happening with all branches, noting TD Bank and Santander.
Berkeley Mayor Carmen Amato spoke out against the closure of their local OceanFirst because that’s the bank the municipality does business with. The Township Council adopted a resolution urging it to stay open.
“A lot of seniors like to go to the bank branch. They don’t care to do it online. They would probably go to another bank,” he said. “Expanding digital banking is not going to help them.”
“For almost 120 years, OceanFirst Bank has been providing financial services solutions to our neighbors at the Jersey Shore,” said George Destafney, President Central Region OceanFirst Bank. “Our customers expect and deserve a variety of choices to bank safely and securely and at OceanFirst we continue to offer the latest digital and branch options to assist our customers 24/7.
“During the pandemic, more and more of our customers chose digital banking as their preferred way of accessing their accounts. As a result, our customers are using our branches less so we will be consolidating several locations in December 2021 and January 2022,” he said. “Simultaneously, we are also investing in our branches that will continue to deliver in-person banking.
“In December 2020, our branch on Hooper Avenue in Toms River was transformed and in addition to in-person branch banking, now offers our customers access to their accounts via virtual teller,” he said, noting that the bank spends extra time helping them understand how to use them.
In-person services will continue at the locations at Route 37 West, Route 70 near Lake Ridge, Forked River, and Whiting.
“Ocean County has always been home to OceanFirst and we are in the final stages of building a new 80,000 square foot building to expand our headquarters on Hooper Avenue in Toms River,” he said.
In regards to seniors – or anyone – being a victim of scam, he said that fraud prevention is a top priority. So far in 2021, staff have prevented or recovered approximately $9 million in more than 200 check fraud cases involving customers.
“We know that senior citizens are particularly vulnerable to financial exploitation which is why we provide ongoing training for our employees and regularly share information about scams directed at our senior neighbors,” Destafney said. “Our security team is available to visit local groups to share tips for spotting different types of scams and has many videos available as well.”
Kearny Bank did not return phone calls for this story.