By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
THE Royal Bank of Canada closed its operations in Bimini on Wednesday, ending more than 50 years of banking services on that island.
Residents stood in long queues outside the bank from 8am waiting for it to open at 9am to withdraw their money and close out their accounts.
The Tribune understands that some customers went to the bank on Thursday to access the ATM, but it had already been removed and taken out of service.
The pull-out by RBC leaves many concerned, in particular for the elderly customers and visitors as well as businesses on the island.
"Man, everyone is panicking because Friday is supposed to be payday, and so we will have to see how this will play out come Friday," said Pat David of Ebbie's and Pat Bonefish Club in Bailey Town.
Ms David said that some businesses paid their staff on Thursday, but there are still many persons who have not yet been paid.
It is understood that Bank of the Bahamas is expected to fill the void and that bank applications are already available on that island, according to residents.
Pakesia Parker-Edgecombe, MP for West Grand Bahama and Bimini, told The Tribune when contacted Thursday that banking services are expected to commence on the island by mid-August.
"While the government was not successful in having RBC remain on island and service that community, the state-run Bank of the Bahamas will take over where RBC left off," she said.
She stated that Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance K Peter Turnquest and his team have worked feverishly to ensure that the island of Bimini is not without a financial institution.
RBC was the only bank on the island for many decades, and the institution informed its customers in July by public notice that it was closing the branch in Bimini and the bank would be merging the branch with the RBC Freeport branch on August 2.
Robbie Smith, local government councillor, described the closure as a "sad day" for Bimini residents.
He reported people were lined up from around 8am at the bank to get their money out.
"The lines were ridiculous. It is a sad day that RBC has closed," he told a ZNS reporter.
Mr Smith said that many tourists used the ATM.
"The machine is gone, and everyone is stranded. What are we to do…get on a plane and fly to Freeport or Nassau for banking?"
He expressed concern for the island's senior citizens and also felt that people and businesses will be at risk.
"This is a trying time (for us), and I think security will be tightened up here," he said.
Charles Ellis, a 90-year-old resident of Bailey Town, felt it was "terrible" of the bank to close its operation to its loyal customers.
"Some people still went to the bank on Thursday to use the ATM to get something, and all they saw was a big hole, they done take the machine out," he said.
Mr Ellis said he was a customer of the bank since it opened 50 years ago.
"I was banking with them for 50 years. It was terrible, to me, the way how it was done. They did not give sufficient time for residents, especially the elderly."
He recalled the days when customers used a bank book.
"We are not use to the machinery and the online (banking). You used to go down there with your book," he said.
He remembered when the banking services were first introduced to the island. "Two guys started coming down here with the box and money from Nassau in the morning, and there was a little shack in town where they would meet and do business, and around about 3pm they were on their way back to Nassau -- that's how they started," he said.
Mr Ellis said the bank's absence is an inconvenience for residents.
"If you have someone to do something for you and you give them a cheque there is no place at the moment they can cash it. And so right now, it's a difficult situation for people in general, but moreso for the elderly."
Mr Ellis, who celebrated his 90th birthday just this week, said: "For the bank to do us like it was done, was terrible. As of now, we are at a standstill."
He said that bank applications for the Bank of the Bahamas are now available on the island.
Mrs Edgecombe said she was indeed thankful to Mr Turnquest and his team. She stated that BOB has already visited the community of Bimini to begin the process and that residents of the island have been able to sign up for accounts.
"We do believe that BOB will service the community of Bimini well and continue to encourage businesses as well as residents to take advantage of those services," she said.