Customers shut out as bank branches close

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The needs of some bank customers appear to be being neglected as the big banks shut up shop and move more of their business online.

Banks are considered an essential service during COVID lockdowns, but the ‘Big Four’ are closing hundreds of branches across the nation, leaving customers high and dry and blaming the pandemic.

ANZ shut nearly two branches a week in 2020, closing in 91 locations, and will be closing a further 18 branches this year, the Herald Sun reports, despite making $3.76 billion in full-year profits.

ANZ is well ahead of the pack in closures, while the Commonwealth Bank has closed 19 banks, Westpac 10 branches, and NAB nine last year. Many other lenders have also cut their opening hours, again blaming the pandemic.

Often, those customers unwilling or unable to do their banking online may also have limited transport or mobility to make the trip farther afield to a bigger shopping centre or even, as is the case with many country banks, to another town.

Finance Sector Union national secretary Julia Angrisano says banks are putting their profits ahead of providing services to customers.

“Banks are still blaming customers for branch closures, claiming falsely that the public doesn’t value branches and prefer to complete their financial transactions online,” she told the Herald Sun.

“It is the banks which prefer to force customers online because they can reduce staff numbers, save money on wages and rents and increase profits.”

Despite the closures, a survey by comparison company Mozo reveals that widespread loyalty to the big four banks persists. Eighty per cent of those surveyed keep their cash with NAB, Commonwealth, ANZ or Westpac.

Fewer than 4 per cent of Aussies put their money with ING, even though it is the bank with the top savings rate of 1.35 per cent.

Familiarity is a key factor, with Mozo reporting that 44 per cent of those surveyed choose to keep their savings with the Big Four because “they always have”.

In other banking news, Reserve Bank governor Phillip Lowe says it is in the “national interest” to ditch the cheque.

The number of personal cheques written in Australia has dropped by 85 per cent in the past decade. But Swinburne University adjunct professor Steve Worthington, who specialises in financial services, says ditching cheques will be unpopular.

“The backlash would be far greater than the benefit,” he told 3AW. “Particularly people of an older age group still use cheques, and even people in rural communities . . . because there’s less and less ATMs there and less bank branches.

“I think that it would be a mistake to ban it outright because it would upset a lot of people.”

Meanwhile, AMP, ANZ, CBA, Macquarie, NAB and Westpac between them have returned $1.2 billion to customers who suffered loss or detriment due to fees for no service misconduct or non-compliant advice.

Major reviews into bank misconduct led to the compensation, with NAB topping the list, returning $437.5 million to about 636,000 customers.

Has your local branch shut? Do you feel comfortable banking online? Will the end of cheques have any affect on you?

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Written by Rebecca Tolan

Rebecca has worked in journalism for 20 years, been a DIY-er for more, and is in the middle of her very own grand design. Retirement seems a long way off! In her spare time she rows surfboats, plays volleyball with her kids and dreams of future holidays.


Total Comments: 22
  1. 1

    I do not trust on-line banking and prefer to speak to banking personnel one on one. Doing some of my banking via Telephone banking – like transferring money between account or checking ones balances if fine – but having my accounts on my Computer even with a good security app. not for me.

  2. 1

    We have been online banking for years and years. There has been the occasional problem but always quickly resolved. We use a bank branch to negotiate a higher interest rate on our investments. Recently we have moved money from the big banks to challenger banks .. smaller banks and some totally on line. We can achieve considerably better interest rates on our investments than with any of the big4/larger banks.

  3. 1

    I’m sure the banks would like everything online.
    I do bill paying there but I like cash to shop. Because shops didn’t want cash during the first lockdown the CBA has removed all the ATMs from our shopping centre and you now have to go out of your way and get money outside at a hole in the wall.

    • 3

      I can’t remember the last time I used cash. It is so much easier not to use cash.

    • 4

      Old G – it is so much easier WITH cash. I have furnished my house & yard almost exclusively from garage sales, Gumtree, facebook pages, etc, all paid with cash. I’ve yet to find one of these that pulls out a hand held portable eftpos machine to pay. On the other side, I love picking up road side freebies, doing them up, and on selling – again, not once have I been asked “do you have eftpos?”. I’m solely on the pension and budget strictly, and with cash I know exactly where my money is going.

  4. 3

    Our suburb, some years ago had 5 banks and 2 building societies but now we have lost all of the banks and 1 building society with the remaining building society becoming a bank. It’s all OK to highlight the plight of personal banking customers but business banking is also affected with some small business owners needing to close up while they go a few suburbs away to do the banking. Having a bank locally is more than daily money needs, there are times when one needs advice on investing, loans, insurance and safekeeping of documents. A lot of retirees rely on public transport and finding their bank in another suburb is not always convenient.

    My neighbour used to be a bank manager and he tells of a branch he worked in where there were about 500 townspeople and3 on the staff. The funds held made it one of the most profitable branches the bank had because of low on-costs yet it was closed because, according to the bank, it was unprofitable. Banks appear to be more concerned with shareholders than with customers yet if there are no customers, there is no bank.

    • 0

      So banks are closing down branches as well as their own ATMs in major shopping centres. The ATMs have ben replaced by private operator’s own ATMs and ofcourse it costs $2.50 per withdrawal.
      Online banking is fine but risks are being scamed and outages
      If one needs cash Coles havea $300 cash witdrawal limit providing there is no outage.
      Personally, I alaways carry up to $100 in cash for just in case moments and all my shopping is done through my EFTPOS card. I can check online at any time of the day to see debits and credits. So, while some regions need a bank branch most of the business can be done online or by telephone without any face to face meeting.
      One has to feel for the people who are not computer savvy but there is at least a post office where you can do your banking, I presume for a fee. Not sure if all post offices support personal banking. Times are changing. While bank customers are always relevant to the banks, with the popularity of online bankimg, the banks have realised that customers can be controlled like a herd of cows and the bank’s shareholders love it.

  5. 3

    I live in an area with a very high demographic of seniors. Yet Westpac has closed a branch within easy walking distance of some large aged care and senior residences. Their totally uncaring response was to say walk a longer distance to a bus stop and catch a bus to nearest branch.

  6. 0

    Ever since the 80’s when ATMs were new branches have been closed in many places, maybe the rate has increased but it is certainly not new.

  7. 1

    I am nearly 65 and embrace futuristic advancement. I understand why some elderly (and not so elderly) poeple may have difficulty without a physical branch and checkbook, especially if language is also a barrier. I had a business; cheques bounce, plastic cards don’t. Accounts are not good for small businesses and cheques make it worse, sometimes people buy time with bouncing cheques, drawing out the credit time limit. Small businesses are paid instantly with plastic cards. If it’s good enought for someone to supply a service then it’s fair to make a guaranteed payment at the time and they can even get pre approval beforehand to see if you are good for the money. ANZ charged a fee for counter service to encourage ATM use, Coles & Woolworths give you cash out for free, good strategy on their behalf. I don’t mean to offend anyone but it’s time to acknowledge that the dinasaur is dead. It’s time not only to ditch the cheques but also time to ditch the antiquated facsimile transmissions in favour of email.

  8. 2

    I starting work with a bank in the UK in 1958. There wasn’t even an adding machine in the office, everything recorded was done by hand, calculations in our heads, passbooks (cheque and savings accounts) written up manually. Staff learned how to count very quickly. Joined an Australian bank in 1964. Ledger machines were a revelation, but passbooks were still there, tellers recorded everything by hand. By the 1970s central computers appeared and the first branch closures occurred – yes, that long ago. Ironically, the first country branch to which I was attached made a profit for the first time in the year it closed! The “Scottish” branch system was designed so that branches with wealthy customers supported those in poorer areas. That ideal was abandoned years ago. When credit cards muscled in, the banks suddenly became more profit conscious and everything changed. More routine customer account tasks were assigned to computerisation. Even tellers acquired machines to record their transactions. Branch staff were reduced and I, along with many knowledgeable senior officers, was retired in the 1990s. Since then, as we all know, service has deteriorated markedly. ATMs are mostly operated by outside companies which means many transactions which once were free and now charged for. Customers need to be careful to pick their mark to avoid fees. And now there is talk of abolishing cheques and cash. I still issue the occasional necessary cheque although most of my transactions are performed on line but I still prefer cash for routine purchases, including groceries. Like the majority of my contemporaries, I do not intend to pander to the latest proposed reductions and wish that banks will see the sense of never curtailing the current range of arrangements. Banking, remember, was the archetypal service industry and should never relinquish that status.

  9. 1

    Nice to have a choice. Online banking is soo convenient, but sometimes it’s nice to go in the branch & draw out more than the ATM will allow (I have a daily limit) for cash transactions (as mentioned above, furnature, 2nd hand goods on facey, buying a cheap car or mower, etc. Still good to have both options. If we stop using the branches they will have a reason to close & that would be sad. If we keep using them enough maybe they’ll stay open

  10. 0

    The last time I went to a bank was in April 2020.
    If all the banks closed, I wouldn’t lose any sleep.
    The less banks means there will be less cash circulating, so there will be less tax and welfare cheats. That’s good news for honest citizens.
    All that stolen money is desperately needed to improve our welfare system, roads, schools and hospitals, and to reduce our massive debt following the covid-19 pandemic.

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