TOMS RIVER – As brick-and-mortar bank branches continue to close at an alarming rate, Ocean County Commissioner Joseph H. Vicari addressed concerns in a private phone conference.
In the 45-minute session, Vicari discussed with state Banking and Insurance Commissioner Marlene Caride about local bank branches closing and how it’s impacting senior citizens and small businesses.
“Senior citizens, especially our oldest adults, often have problems with technology,” Vicari told Caride. “They may have motor skills and cognitive issues that make using a computer and smart phone difficult.”
The growing trend of in-person banks being replaced with economical automated online services is another concern Vicari brought up.
“Community banks should serve the community…We need age-friendly bank branches in Ocean County,” he said.
In recent years, more than 25 percent of all existing bank branches in Ocean County have closed with nearly 50 branches have closed in the past 10 years.
Having a senior population of more than 200,000 people in the county, local bank branches are extremely important, Vicari said.
Caride, a former state Assemblywoman, said she is aware of the problem and sponsored legislation that empowered bank employees to help protect vulnerable customers.
“We are with you, Commissioner Vicari,” she said. “We are out to protect the consumers.”
Vicari was joined in the meeting by Maria LaFace, director of the Ocean County Office of Senior Services and Steve Scaturro, Director of the Department of Consumer Affairs discussing how bank employees are the first to spot any fraud attempts to seniors.
“Sometimes it even involves a family member trying access an older relative’s account. Seniors need this extra layer of protection,” LaFace said.
“Sometimes even giving a friend or relative an online password can be a problem,” Scaturro added.
Vicari proposed an idea where banks can form a local co-op and could be represented under one roof at one or more central locations.