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Regional bank closures continue ahead of Senate inquiry

While the Commonwealth Bank has halted regional bank closures, Westpac and NAB said more will come under the chopping block.

The Senate committee on rural and regional affairs and transport will look at the economic and welfare impacts of branch closures in regional Australia as well as the process banks are following to close branches and reasons being given.

It comes as dozens of bank branches have been shuttered across the country in recent months and failures over the handling of closures had been found in the Coalition’s Regional Banking Taskforce, which was handed down in September 2022. 

The Commonwealth Bank has confirmed it will not close any of its regional branches following a request from the Senate committee.

“Following consideration of a request from the Senate Committee, CBA will not close any regional branches while the inquiry is underway in 2023,” a CBA spokesperson confirmed with Mortgage Business.

“As an additional sign of good faith, while the inquiry is underway in 2023, CBA will postpone the closure of two branches already announced.

“We continue to welcome constructive engagement with government, industry and communities — an approach demonstrated by our recent work with all members of the Regional Banking Taskforce.”

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‘Change not always easy’: NAB

While the National Australia Bank (NAB) acknowledged that “big change is not always easy”, it said reshaping its branch network sometimes requires difficult decisions.

NAB retail executive Krissie Jones said the bank would work constructively with the Senate committee inquiry but would continue its branch reshaping process, “which will include closures, consolidations and new investments to meet our customers’ needs”.

“These decisions are made with the community and our customers in mind while also taking into account a broad range of factors like the number of customers visiting our lower traffic branches, our ability to staff our branches and how we ensure a consistent level of customer service in person and online, Ms Jones said.

“That’s why over the last three years we’ve invested more than $70 million to upgrade and enhance our physical presence at dozens of locations across regional and rural Australia.”

Ms Jones added the bank had seen the single largest transformation in banking in Australia’s history as more of us choose to bank digitally.

“Our customers now have banking technology at their fingertips, through their device and more than 93 per cent of customer transactions now take place online,” she said.

For those customers who choose to bank in person, she added that Bank@Post would continue to play a role in regional communities.

Westpac branches to close

In addition, Westpac announced its plans to proceed with the closure of a further 20 branches across four states, half of which are located in regional areas.

A Westpac spokesperson told Mortgage Business sister brand InvestorDaily that the “changing and declining” use of branches by its customers meant that, in some instances, the bank may make the “difficult decision” to close a branch.

“In these instances, we continue to support our customers by expanding access via Bank@Post, telephone, mobile and virtual banking,” the spokesperson said.

“We always notify our customers in advance about the changes and directly connect them with the services they need to continue to do their banking. For those who are new to digital banking, or may require more assistance with the changes, we provide dedicated support and education.

The Finance Sector Union (FSU) national secretary Julia Angrisano accused the bank of abandoning its customers and businesses.

“Westpac is brazenly closing branches month after month as a means of propping up profits and bonuses for senior executives,” she said.

“It is simply outrageous that Westpac can continually kill off jobs and close branches and nothing is being done to stop them.”

Ms Angrisano welcomed the Commonwealth Bank’s decision to pause its regional bank closures and said that other banks were now expected to follow its lead.

Meanwhile ANZ said that the bank was “considering the matters raised in the Senate inquiry’s terms of reference and will engage constructively with the inquiry”.

[Related: Senate to hold regional banking inquiry]

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