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Big 4 banks split on regional branch closures

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While one major bank has committed to halting closures in regional areas while a Senate inquiry is undertaken, another is proceeding with closures regardless.

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

The committee announced it had commenced an inquiry into bank closures in regional Australia last week. Dozens of bank branches have been shuttered across the country in recent months.

“Following consideration of a request from the Senate committee, CBA will not close any regional branches while the inquiry is underway in 2023,” the bank confirmed on Monday.

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

In a joint statement, committee chair Senator Matt Canavan and member Senator Gerard Rennick called on all banks to pause their closures while the Senate inquiry is undertaken.

“The committee wrote to all banking providers and asked them to halt closures of regional banking to show that they’re approaching this inquiry in good faith. The call to cease bank closures has the support of Liberal, Nationals, Labor, and Greens Senators,” they said.

However, Westpac this week announced that it plans to proceed with the shuttering of a further 20 branches across four states, half of which are located in regional areas.

A Westpac spokesperson told 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 to make the transition easier.”

The Westpac spokesperson noted that the bank has more than 5 million digitally active customers and knows that the expectations of these customers are changing. 

“That’s why we’re investing in digital services so our customers can bank with us anywhere, at any time,” they said.

But in a statement on Tuesday, 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.

“All Australians deserve to have access to the full range of financial services wherever they live,” she concluded. 

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

On Wednesday, NAB retail executive Krissie Jones said: “We will be continuing our branch reshaping process during the committee’s deliberations in 2023, which will include closures, consolidations and new investments to meet our customers.”

The inquiry’s terms of reference are to report on the current extent of bank closures in regional Australia, referencing the branch closure process (including the reasons given for closures) and the economic and welfare impacts of bank closures on customers and regional communities.

The inquiry will also look into the effect of bank closures or the removal of face-to-face cash services on access to cash, the effectiveness of government banking statistics in capturing and reporting regional service levels, consideration of solutions and other related matters.

Submissions to the inquiry will close on 31 March and a report will be delivered by 1 December.

Big 4 banks split on regional branch closures

While one major bank has committed to halting closures in regional areas while a Senate inquiry is undertaken, another is proceeding with closures regardless.

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Jon Bragg

Jon Bragg

Jon Bragg is a journalist for Momentum Media's Investor Daily, nestegg and ifa. He enjoys writing about a wide variety of financial topics and issues and exploring the many implications they have on all aspects of life.

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