The Regional Banking Taskforce will include members from government and from the banks to evaluate how branch closures have impacted local businesses, industries and communities. It will also consider potential solutions.
Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Housing Michael Sukkar will co-chair the group, alongside NSW senator Perin Davey.
Members will include representatives from the big four banks, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank and Bank of Queensland, as well as the Australian Banking Association (ABA), the Customer Owned Banking Association, the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Australia Post and the Australian Local Government Association will also be represented.
Minister for Regionalisation Bridget McKenzie commented she had heard bank branch closures in the regions can affect the liveability of towns.
“Having access to bank branches is vital for every community, particularly for residents who are unable to use online services to conduct their banking,” Ms McKenzie said.
The taskforce is set to hold its first meeting in early November and will release and issues paper for public consultation.
“The Regional Banking Taskforce will enable the government to work closely with the banks and local communities to assess how these services can best be delivered in our regions,” Mr Sukkar said.
Mr Sukkar will report to Treasurer Josh Frydenberg while Mr Davey will report to Ms McKenzie.
The inquiry has come as recent survey data from the Australian Banking Association has shown less than 20 per cent of customers will opt to bank in person.
All of the big four banks have reported branch closures, both temporary and permanent, in recent years. In August, ANZ stated that it would close six branches across the country, while Westpac slashed opening hours across 195 branches in Sydney amid the city’s lockdown.
The bank had similar temporary closures in Melbourne when it had a sizeable outbreak in 2020.
CBA also reduced operating hours across 90 of its regional branches in July, with branch staff switching over to giving remote customer support in the afternoons.
NAB told a parliamentary committee earlier in the year that it had closed 72 branches from January 2020 to 25 May 2021, and that it would review its network on an ongoing basis. As at May, it had 548 branches.
Meanwhile, ANZ closed 145 branches between January 2020 and May 2021. As at May, the bank had 448 branches, with plans to reduce the total down to 425.
Westpac similarly closed 80 branches between January 2020 and May 2021, expecting to have around 840 branches across the group’s brands (Westpac, St George, Bank of Melbourne and BankSA) by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, CBA had closed 53 branches between 7 March 2020 and 27 March 2021, with 928 branches as at 31 March 2021 (839 CBA and 93 Bankwest branches).
Sarah Simpkins is the news editor across Mortgage Business and The Adviser.
Previously, she reported on banking, financial services and wealth management for InvestorDaily and ifa.