‘Devastating’ Decision by Aussie Banks
If you’re in one of these suburbs, you’re missing out big-time on an essential service which the rest of the country takes for granted.
Bank branch closures are having a “devastating impact” with new data showing almost 459 branches have been shut down in the last few years, while thousands of ATMs were also removed.
Over the last three years, around 3800 ATMs were taken out of circulation, representing more than a third of all existing cash machines in the country.
At the same time, the big four banks — CBA, Westpac, ANZ and NAB — permanently closed the doors of 459 of their branches, according to data obtained by The Daily Telegraph.
NSW was the hardest hit state, losing 140 bank stores during that period. Of those, 20 were shut down in Sydney, and the rest were closed across smaller cities and regional areas in the state.
The shutdowns left nearly 300 NSW suburbs without a branch to visit and 216 suburbs have been left with no way to procure cash after the closure of ATMs in the area.
Victoria didn’t fare much better, losing 120 branches which left thousands with nowhere to go.
“Closures have a devastating impact on local communities,” Finance Sector Union national secretary Julia Angrisano said to news.com.au in a statement.
The Commonwealth Bank, Australia’s largest bank, has shut down many of its stores and cash machines.
The closures are particularly bad news for regional and rural areas, and older citizens, according to Ms Angrisano.
“There needs to be a better assessment of community needs before a branch is closed …,” she added.
“If banks are now essential services then perhaps we should look at how they can be regulated like other essential services.”
An estimated 80 per cent of Aussies prefer to bank online – but that still leaves the remaining 20 per cent, or one in five Australians, who visit physical stores to sort out their finances.
The overwhelming majority of those people would have disabilities or low levels of digital literacy, making an in-person visit essential.
NAB is also among the big four that forcibly closed bank branches since 2019.
ATMs around the country have also taken a huge hit.
From a financial standpoint, it is in a bank’s interest to close down as many branches as possible, Ms Angrisano pointed out.
“The traditional banks are facing more and more competition from new entrants such as digital banks, non-bank lenders, and buy now pay later [services] and to stay profitable they will reduce their biggest costs which are wages and overheads like buildings,” she explained.
She added: “The banks are also driving the move away from branch level service to digital.
“For many workers in retail banking, they must meet performance targets to reduce the number of customers coming into the branches. They are trained and coached to redirect customers to ATMs and/or online banking to reduce foot traffic in branches.”
CBA now has 875 branches compared with 1134 in February 2020 when it trumpeted having Australia’s largest branch network, down from 1192 in February 2019 before the pandemic took hold.
The number of ATMs also fell from 4118 in 2019, to 3597 in 2020. It now says it has more than 2000 ATMs.
Last year, ANZ head of distribution Kath Bray said branch closures across the country would be inevitable in coming years as more people switched to digital transactions.
Ms Bray also said some customers had been reluctant to switch back to branches.
Despite the shrinking footprint of physical stores, Ms Bray said branches would still be vital to ANZ’s network, but would be designed to deal with more complex issues such as home loans and financial hardship.
“We still need branches but fewer of them,” she said.