The Courier-Mail

Banks close up shop

Staff anxious as branch closures soar

- ANTHONY KEANE

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

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

Since COVID-19 struck in early 2020 there have been more than 290 permanent shutdowns completed or scheduled, according to bank figures and Finance Sector Union (FSU) data.

Temporary COVID-related closures of some bank 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.

“It’s a real blow to the forgotten Australian­s,” she said.

“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,” Ms Angrisano said.

Bosses of the four major banks are scheduled to appear before a parliament­ary committee on Thursday and Friday this week.

Ms Angrisano said workers were feeling anxious about their future and she called on banks to outline future branch closure plans “so we’re not dealing with death by a thousand cuts”.

“The pandemic has fasttracke­d the closures – it forced people to move to digital banking as a necessity to keep people safe,” she said.

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

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”.

Some recent regional branch closures had seen transactio­ns almost halve in the past five years, she said.

NAB executive general manager retail Krissie Jones said that the bank’s investment in services and 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,” Ms Jones said.

“Over the past several years, fewer customers are coming into branches and foot traffic has lessened dramatical­ly.

“Over the last year alone, we have seen a further 30 per cent reduction in over the counter and basic servicing transactio­ns in our branches. When we do close a branch, our goal is for no job losses … The branch team also work closely with local customers, the community, business and government stakeholde­rs.”

Last week, Westpac and its subsidiari­es Bank of Melbourne, St George and BankSA began closing or co-locating 48 branches, but its numbers have been dwarfed by ANZ, which has closed or announced plans to close 131 branches since early 2020. NAB has closed or is closing 45, the Commonweal­th Bank 32, and Suncorp 20, the FSU says.

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