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ANZ to close 15 regional branches

The major bank has announced the closure of 15 regional branches, citing customer shift away from branches and into remote banking.

ANZ has said that it will shut down 15 branches in regional Australia in NSW, Victoria and Western Australia, between June and October 2021.

According to the Finance Sector Union (FSU), since January 2020, ANZ has announced the closure of 146 branches.

The union said that branch closure locations include:

  • NSW: Forster, Cooma, Ulladulla, Salamander Bay, Casino, Cowra, Cootamundra, Leeton and Kempsey;
  • Victoria: Bacchus Marsh and Lakes Entrance; and
  • Western Australia: Wongan Hills, Bassendean, Baldivis and Beverley.

Commenting on what has driven impending branch closures, ANZ managing director, retail, Katherine Bray told The Adviser: “We continue to see a significant shift away from branches as customers increasingly choose to use online options and phones for their banking needs.

“This has been one of the biggest changes across the industry and the broader economy in recent years as people go online for everyday things such as grocery shopping, watching a film or doing their tax return.

“Last year alone, 70 per cent of our customers preferred digital banking options and many of our few remaining passbook-only customers have been choosing to use debit cards for the first time.”

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Furthermore, Ms Bray said that only 12 per cent of the bank’s customers used branches during the same time, meaning it was only completing about one transaction per customer per month over the counter.

ANZ employee options

ANZ has notified customers about the closures, while also informing them about the alternatives available to them, including specialist teams on the ground in the region, Ms Bray said.

In addition, the lender’s customer team has called thousands of elderly and vulnerable customers to assist them with navigating the ANZ app and assisting them with other options, including using other major bank and Armaguard automatic teller machines (ATMs) to withdraw cash for free, she added.

Last year, the major bank signed an agreement with cash management service provider Armaguard Group to sell 1,300 of its offsite Australian ATM fleet.

Ms Bray said that the lender informed employees last week, and will seek to retrain as many of them as it can, “particularly with increased demands on other areas of the bank that could benefit from their skills and experience”.

“Of our employees that were working in a branch that closed last year, we were able to find new roles or redeployment opportunities for nearly all of them that wanted to stay with ANZ, including at remote locations,” Ms Bray said.

“These were some of our most experienced staff and we redeployed them to where our customers need them most.”

For employees who leave, Ms Bray said that ANZ is providing access to “unlimited” career coaching and outplacement support, and access to its career training fund.

“Where people face financial hardship after leaving ANZ, we will provide access to our Past Employee Care Fund to support them,” Ms Bray said.

Digitisation drives bank closures

ANZ’s latest branch closure announcement has followed the closure of several branches since January 2020, and closure of branches in Victoria and South Australia in 2019.

ANZ CEO Shayne Elliott told the banking royal commission that branches were becoming uneconomical as consumers increasingly opt to bank digitally.  

Westpac Group announced in March that it will shut down and amalgamate 48 bank branches and relocate 300 jobs in Victoria and transition more to digital channels after temporarily closing many of its branches during the coronavirus pandemic.

National Australia Bank (NAB) announced in 2020 that it would partially close 114 smaller regional branches, and only open them in the mornings, as it increasingly embraces digital banking.

Union slams closures

Speaking about the closures of the ANZ bank branches, FSU national secretary Julia Angrisano said that they would affect thousands of customers who would be forced to change banks or travel long distances to branches in other towns, while also impacting 54 ANZ employees.

“If you live and work in a regional town, your opportunities for redeployment are virtually nil,” Ms Angrisano said.

“Those workers will also no longer be eligible for the ANZ’s Covid Enhanced Redundancy provisions as that program, which guaranteed affected staff a minimum nine months redundancy pay, was withdrawn on April 1, 2021.

“That was a program which recognised that bank workers could face difficulty securing a new job because of COVID. In our view, nothing has changed, and with the vaccination program still to be rolled out, the pandemic continues to affect the numbers of jobs on offer.”

Ms Angrisano also disputed ANZ’s stance about the customer preference for digital banking, arguing that it is “part of the bank’s business model”.

She said one-third of bank customers either do not own a computer, are not equipped with sufficient skills, or are not interested in adopting online banking.

“Bank staff have been pressured by the use of ‘targets’ to move customers online, and in each of the banks, limits have been imposed on the number of over-the-counter transactions,” she said.

“Shutting branches in regional areas does not reflect the true needs of bank customers. They need to be able to transact the full range of banking and financial services in branches close to where they live.”

Ms Angrisano concluded: “The ANZ takes the cake as the worst performer when it comes to deserting communities around Australia. This is a bank which lives up to the banking royal commission’s description of banking as being driven by greed and short-term gain.

“When there is a financial downturn, the federal government backs the banks in order to protect the economy. So, in our view, banks have an obligation to continue to provide a service to the community. But the ANZ doesn’t understand that basic principle. The ANZ is obsessed with putting profits before people.”

[Related: RLO changes would simplify loan process: ANZ]

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