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National Australia Bank has vowed to keep its regional and rural branches open until at least January 2021.
The major bank has 316 branches in regional and rural areas nationwide, employing more than 1,600 people.
NAB chief executive Philip Chronican said the new pledge was an extension of the bank’s decision not to shut any branches in drought-stricken areas, and follows a consultation period during which the bank’s senior team travelled to 13 regional and rural areas across the country to hear directly from agricultural communities about the support they expect from their banks.
The big four bank had enlisted the help of figures such as Queensland-based Chris Sarra, who is known for his advocacy work in driving better outcomes for Indigenous Australians, and John Anderson, former deputy prime minister and sixth-generation farmer, to help the bank “listen better and consider wider views”.
“We are proud of our heritage in regional and rural Australia and we want our customers to know that our priority is to serve them,” the new CEO said.
“We also know that regional and rural Australia is undergoing significant change – and impacts like bank branch closures are difficult for communities.
“The local NAB branch and the bankers we employ can play a key role in supporting communities and customers through change, and this decision provides certainty that we will continue to be there for them.”
Despite the announcement, the bank noted that planned closures for two regional branches have been “proposed” to go ahead due to the “advanced stage and significant investment in upgrading services in those cities”. NAB did not reveal which branches are proposed to be closed.
“Both [are] located in regional cities that are home to multiple branch locations,” the major bank’s announcement states.
On the other hand, NAB noted it would open the first of four larger centres in Toowoomba on 1 April 2019. A total of 73 specialist bankers with small business and agrilending experience will be employed at these hubs.
The big four bank’s commitment follows a sustained period of closures by NAB, with figures from the Financial Sector Union showing that the major bank had closed more than 50 branches, mostly in regional and rural areas, in the 18 months to March 2018 as the banking royal commission kicked off.