The Westpac Group is shutting down and amalgamating 48 bank branches in a major reduction of its national branch network.
The bank is believed to be currently working through these changes with its people; however, not all branch location closures have yet been confirmed.
The changes largely relate to stores where there is a nearby branch within 5 kilometres (and one regional branch where there is another branch in the same town).
The closures involve branches under the Westpac, St.George, Bank SA and Bank of Melbourne brands.
Approximately half of the branch closures are believed to be Bank of Melbourne branches in Victoria.
The move comes after Westpac temporarily closed many of its branches due to COVID-19, and saw a strong move to digital banking. A similar position was taken by NAB when it last year partially closed 114 smaller regional branches.
As part of these proposed changes to its customer service channels, the bank will also become one of the first big four banks to move to allow a branch with reduced patronage to co-locate under two Westpac Group brands in the same location and create one multi-brand site.
This will mean that some branches may see different brands working alongside each other to deliver a better banking experience for customers.
A Westpac spokesperson commented: “When we do close a branch, it is not a decision we take lightly. We take into consideration customer usage, location and proximity to other banking services.
“We are working through these changes with our people regarding branches in metro areas with low utilisation, where there is a nearby branch within 5 kilometres and where customers are preferring the convenience and increased safety of contactless, cashless and digital channels.
“Branches will continue to remain an important service option, especially in areas that have high customer usage.
“Westpac Group continues to hold the second largest branch network in Australia out of all the major banks,” they said. (CBA has the largest number of branches in Australia.)
The spokesperson added that the bank has also been growing its phone and virtual banking services as a result of the move to digital banking, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
They commented: “Westpac continues to follow our customers by investing in the ways they are choosing to bank. This follows a seismic shift towards digital and cashless banking, and declining foot traffic in bank branches, particularly in urban and metropolitan areas.
“To meet this changing customer demand, Westpac has grown its 24/7 phone banking and virtual banking centres.
“As part of these changes to our customer service channels, we are moving 300 new jobs to Victoria. Ninety jobs are already in recruitment and will be based out of our Preston centre, which has undertaken a $1 million refurbishment to increase capacity.”
The move has been greeted by outrage from the Finance Sector Union, whose national secretary Julia Angrisano said this series of branch closures by the Westpac Group was the largest ever by a major bank.
She called into question Westpac’s commitment to providing service to its customers, stating: “Westpac is deserting its customers and its staff by closing branches to shore up its profits,” Ms Angrisano said.
She added: “Older customers who use bank branch networks will be the most affected by this shutdown.”
Ms Angrisano suggested that banks were increasingly “using COVID to claim the numbers of transactions in branches are down and they are no longer required by customers.”
“Banks were deemed to be an essential service and allowed to trade during last year’s national COVID-19 lockdown but suddenly Westpac decides that its branch network is no longer essential,” she said.
“This is an outrageous move by a bank which can expect a savage community backlash for this decision.”
“This is nothing more than a grab for profits by Westpac, which will allow the bank to save on salaries and rents.”
Westpac’s decision to close multiple branches comes as the major bank overhauls its operations.
The major bank recently announced that it will combine its consumer and business divisions into one division and, earlier this week, the major bank outlined it was “assessing the appropriate structure” for its New Zealand business and “whether a demerger would be in the best interest of shareholders”.
The bank revealed it had been instructed by the Reserve Bank of New Zealand to commission a number of reports around its risk and liquidity management processes.
Westpac also recently announced it will sell its lender’s mortgage insurance business to a global specialist insurer.
[Related: Westpac mulls further business sale]
Annie Kane is the editor of The Adviser and Mortgage Business.
As well as writing about the Australian broking industry, the mortgage market, financial regulation, fintechs and the wider lending landscape – Annie is also the host of the Elite Broker and In Focus podcasts and The Adviser Live webcasts.