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Senate inquiry reveals 97% of Bankwest’s transactions are digital

The bank has told the inquiry that its strategy was to grow as a “digital and broker-first bank for home buyers”.

Speaking at the Senate rural and regional affairs and transport references committee (bank closures in regional Australia) hearing in Beverley, Western Australia, on 16 August 2023, Bankwest’s general manager of personal banking Scott Spittles revealed that digital transactions now accounted for 97 per cent of all transactions.

At the inquiry, Mr Spittles explained that “in branch, over-the counter transactions have declined 44 per cent in the last three years".

The hearing, which had representatives from Bankwest as well as several council members from Beverley and the surrounding shires, gathered to understand the process behind closing a regional bank branch and the impact not having a physical bank branch has on communities.

Mr Spittles said Bankwest does “expect to see fewer branches into the future” but ruled out any further closures before the end of the year, abiding by the committee’s request to pause disclosures for the remainder of the year.

However, he did reveal a regional branch in Carnarvon, Western Australia, had been closed since June 2022 due to a lack of staff and would likely remain closed for the rest of the year.

When asked about how the bank undertakes the process for deciding on whether or not to close a bank Mr Spittles said the institution would make the decision based on “customer demand first and foremost” and also how the bank could “best meet that customer demand with a branch or an absence of a branch”.

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The committee chair, senator Matt Canavan, questioned why the organisation could not undertake community consultation with the region they were looking to close a physical branch and called for banks to have an “adult conversation with the local council”.

Mr Spittles said: “Understanding whether that consultation would impact the decision and then change that decision, and it hasn’t in the past, is probably one thing we’re thinking about.

“But in my mind is it almost disingenuous if we’re quite committed to the decision that we’ve made, through that consultation would we genuinely be in a position to reverse that decision, that’s our position at the moment.”

The committee also questioned whether banking was seen as an essential service for communities despite dwindling physical regional banks.

Mr Spittles confirmed that the bank saw itself as providing an essential service but said how they provide that service could evolve and that “we don’t see only being anchored to a branch in town”.

He said: “We’ve been at long ends to build out as many processes as we can that we can help everybody via the telephone if need be, and there’s still work to be done to make that a better experience for our customers.

“We do see that we will continue to rely heavily on the Bank@Post collaboration to be able to access those for those few that still require and we understand that and we appreciate that.

“Your personal choice to access cash in those communities is one that we want to enable but our enablement more in the future, will be relying on Bank@Post services.”

He also emphasised that outside of the cash component of banking the institution could “serve all our customers’ needs on the telephone, which we have a really excellent proposition in terms of our call centre based locally in WA”.

[Revealed: ‘Digital banking is paramount’, regional bank closure inquiry hears]

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