Big four urged to immediately halt branch closures

The Finance Sector Union (FSU), which represents workers in Australia’s banking, finance and insurance industries, has called for an immediate halt to bank branch closures across metropolitan and regional areas while a Senate Inquiry into Regional Branch Closures is underway.

The final report is at least eight months away from release (expected on 1 December 2023), with public submissions to close at the end of this week. More than 370 submissions have been received so far.

The report will assess the extent of closures across regional Australia, taking particular note of banks’ closure process and reasons used to justify branch closures, the potential economic and welfare impacts of these closures on regional communities, and how effectively APRA is capturing and reporting statistics on regional banking service levels.

FSU National Secretary Julia Angrisano in particular singled out National Australia Bank (NAB) for “refusing to pause regional branch closures” during the ongoing Senate Inquiry.

“The NAB’s behaviour is outrageous and completely out of step with community expectations and in breach of its social license,” Angrisano said in a statement.

“All Australians deserve to have access to the full range of financial services no matter where they live.”

The FSU added that “NAB refuses to acknowledge community concerns” with announced closures of branches in regional Victoria, Queensland, and NSW. NAB has planned to close these branches in July.

Fellow big fours, CBA and ANZ have also notified the FSU of branch closures in regional WA and Queensland (with the loss of 12 jobs), and regional Victoria and metro NSW (with the loss of 15 jobs), respectively.

The FSU noted that, however, both CBA and ANZ have “committed to pausing regional closures while the Inquiry continues”.

With increasing digitisation and expansion of online banking services, banks have moved to rapidly trim down their branch networks. Such closures often have an inordinate impact on regional and remote communities, many of which still have significant cash economies and a large segment of digitally excluded individuals that rely on face-to-face interactions in-branch.

Between 2017 and 2022, Australia’s banks shuttered more than 1,680 branches across the country (inclusive of metro, regional and remote areas), representing a 30 per cent drop in overall branch numbers in these five years, according to APRA’s Points of Presence data.

Following the same trajectory, regional and remote Australia alone lost more than 677 bank branches over this period, representing 29 per cent of the non-metro area branch network.

Last year alone, regional and remote Australia saw the loss of 97 bank branches.

“The major banks are making massive profits and yet they continue to shut down branches and they don’t care about customers and businesses who are impacted by these closures,” Angrisano said.

“The morale of bank workers is at rock bottom as they wait to hear if their branch and their job is on the hit list.”

“The FSU believes the banks should be compelled to pause all closures, in metropolitan and regional areas while the Senate Inquiry is underway.”