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Heritage slams Suncorp branch closures

Suncorp is set to close a number of branches, with rival Heritage Bank blasting the move and claiming it is “placing profit ahead of customers”.

According to the Finance Sector Union (FSU), Suncorp had indicated that it would close 15 metropolitan branches around Australia in the coming months, leaving it with around 70 shopfronts in its network.

The first closures were scheduled for Friday (25 March) in Ashgrove, Brisbane, and Chatswood, Sydney.

The other branches reported as affected span across Strathpine in Brisbane; Nambour on the Sunshine Coast; Nerang and Southport in the Gold Coast; North Ryde, Liverpool, Penrith, Campbelltown and Bankstown in Sydney; as well as Highpoint, Fountain Gate, Doncaster and Chadstone in Melbourne. 

Heritage Bank chief executive Peter Lock has estimated the new total will be half the number of branches that existed five years ago.

Suncorp, however, did not confirm the specific number of branch closures to Mortgage Business.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the bank said the group has had to adapt and change with its customers’ behaviours.

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“With foot traffic in some branches down over 40 per cent and digital engagement up dramatically over the last few years, we are closing some metropolitan branches,” the spokesperson said.

“Where this is happening, we proactively contact all impacted customers including providing support on how to do their banking online, at another branch, by phone or at a nearby Australia Post.”

According to the FSU, 82 branch-based roles will be impacted, out of which 24 will be offered comparable positions in other branches.

Mortgage Business understands that all other impacted staff have been offered redeployment elsewhere within the group.

Mr Lock called the move disappointing, saying it is “jumping the gun and making massive cuts to branch networks is about maximising profit” over serving customer interests.

“This is symptomatic of the profit-dominated decision-making of the listed bank sector today,” he said.

“Closing branches is an easy way to cut costs but that’s often at the expense of customer service.”

The big four banks have all similarly made branch closures, both permanent and temporary, in recent years.

A report from the Regional Banking Taskforce in November noted that at a national level, total bank branches have declined from around 5,800 to 4,500 over the previous four years, while ATMs have also dropped down by around 20 per cent since hitting their peak in 2016.

The government established the taskforce last year to look into the impacts of a 24 per cent fall in regional bank branches over the last four years.

Banking survey data has also indicated customer preferences have shifted towards digital banking.

While Mr Lock acknowledged the rise of digital transactions and that the nature of branches will change in the future, he believes there is still an important role for brick and mortar stores to play in providing face-to-face services.

“I’m a realist. There’s absolutely no doubt that the move to digital transactions is quickly changing the nature of banking. But I believe the major banks are putting profit ahead of their customers by closing branches at such a rapid rate,” he said.

“Although people obviously enjoy the convenience of digital banking, many customers also want the personal service and relationships only available at a branch.”

Meanwhile, Heritage Bank has opened branches in Castle Hill, Parramatta and Macquarie Park in Sydney, as well as Tweed Heads, in the last three years.

If its merger with People’s Choice Credit Union goes ahead, the combined entity would have more than 90 branches and customer service centres.

Data from January showed mutual banks operate more branches to assets than their major rivals, with customer-owned banks running around four branches per $1 billion, compared with the big four, which run less than one shopfront per $1 billion.

[Related: South West Credit, Beyond Bank edge closer to merger]

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