Bank says it was 'misunderstood', but unions say otherwise

The National Australia Bank (NAB) says it continues to take credit card payments in branches and that reports to the contrary are false, but unions are saying otherwise.

Last week, it was widely reported that NAB had ordered its staff not to accept payments from customers wishing to settle credit card bills over the counter.

But in a statement, NAB says it continues to take payments in branches and that the direction has been misunderstood by staff and customers.

Rather than a ban on in-person transactions, NAB says the direction was intended to help educate customers about the various other payment methods on offer.

Read: Abandoned: Branches and ATMs disappearing across Australia

“We are simply helping our customers understand their options,” the statement reads.

“Many of our customers have been pleased to learn a new way to pay their card and save some of their time. We will work with our bankers to make sure this is always communicated clearly as additional options, not less. We are sorry that some of our customers have not had a positive experience or the experience we intended.”

But the Financial Sector Union (FSU), which was initially alerted to the direction by NAB staff, remains unconvinced that the order was an honest mistake.

“We have heard from scores of members about how unpopular this decision was with customers and the NAB has now had the good sense to overturn it and accept credit card payments over the counter,” says FSU national secretary Julia Angrisano.

“It is an outrageous slur for NAB’s senior management to blame staff for not explaining this unpopular policy correctly to their customers. It was only a short time ago these loyal front office staff were keeping the bank open during a pandemic.”

Read: Call for banks to do more to protect consumers from scammers

It’s not just NAB pushing customers away from traditional banking in branches. It’s a trend that’s been going on for some time and it’s having a devastating impact on communities.

Jon Owen, pastor at Wayside Chapel in Sydney, told the SMH that bank branches and the services they provide were vitally important to some of the most vulnerable people in Australian society.

“Resolving a bank issue online or finding and using ATMs may seem like a simple process for some, but for the people we support it can be daunting and overwhelming,” he says.

“Walking into a branch and talking to someone in-person can make all the difference for someone trying to get their life back on track.”

Data from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) shows banks cut the number of branches across Australia from 5816 in June 2017 to 4491 in June 2021, representing almost 23 per cent of all branches nationwide.

Read: Can Centrelink check your bank records?

ANZ general manager says the move to close branches reflects community demand and is a more prudent allocation of resources.

“We have seen a long-term trend, which pre-dates the COVID pandemic, of in-branch transactions dropping on average about 50 per cent over the past four years,” he said.

“Customers are just not using branches like they used to. Even our few remaining passbook customers have been choosing to use debit cards for the first time.”

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Written by Brad Lockyer

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