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Banks close doors as we stayed home

- ANTHONY KEANE

BANK branches have been closing across South Australia at their fastest rate in two decades as the pandemic pushed more customers to digital banking.

Since COVID-19 struck in early 2020, there have been 23 shutdowns completed or scheduled, according to bank figures and Finance Sector Union data. Nationally, the number is almost 300.

Temporary COVID-related closures of some branches continue, and hundreds of ATMs have disappeare­d in a “real blow to communitie­s”, the union says.

FSU national secretary Julia Angrisano said there had been a sharp rise in branch closures in the past two years and the number was growing at its fastest rate since the early 2000s.

“Not everybody can move to digital banking: people with disabiliti­es, those with low levels of digital literacy, and those with English as a second language or limited access to transport,” she said.

Ms Angrisano said workers were anxious about their future and she called on banks to outline future branch closure plans.

“They have used the pandemic as an excuse to close branches at a faster rate,” she said.

A Commonweal­th Bank spokeswoma­n said COVID-19 had not changed how CBA determined its branch footprint but had “accelerate­d a continuing shift in customer preference­s toward digital and contact centre services”.

NAB’s executive general manager retail, Krissie Jones, said the bank’s investment in locations was guided by how customers banked.

“More than 93 per cent of customer interactio­ns are now taking place over the phone, by video or online,” she said.

National figures show that last week Westpac and its subsidiari­es Bank of Melbourne, St George and BankSA began closing or colocating 48 branches.

But this is dwarfed by ANZ, which has closed or announced plans to close 131 branches since early 2020.

NAB has closed or is closing 45 branches, Commonweal­th Bank 32, and Suncorp 20, the FSU says.

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