HomeFinancebankingBranch closures and bank scams – is there a link?

Branch closures and bank scams – is there a link?

As a self-confessed idealist, I miss the days of being able to pop into my local bank branch and do business.

It was generally pretty simple stuff, depositing a cheque or some cash, or having a basic query answered.

These days such things are possible via ATMs or digitally, but I miss the face-to-face interactions regardless. But with ongoing branch closures, that’s rarely possible now.

There was a time when each of the Big Four banks had a branch in my small inner-northern Melbourne suburb. But over the 35 years since my arrival in 1989 all four disappeared one by one.

I understand the reasoning. Business is business. But how many branches must be closed before it stops being good business?

Though I’m on the wrong side of 50, my digital skills are pretty savvy, so I’ve managed to cope relatively well with my suburb’s branch closures. (Although now that all four banks have taken the next step and removed ATMs, I find that extremely inconvenient.)

I am, however, very concerned for older residents for whom a transition to digital banking is a step too far. It is older Aussies who are perhaps most at risk of being victims of scammers purporting to represent their bank.

Yet it is these same Australians who are being placed in the scammers’ ‘line of fire’ by bank branch closures.

Two announcements made only last week would suggest there’s no sign the rate of branch closures is slowing down.

The Commonwealth Bank announced the closure of 45 of its Bankwest branches, while Westpac flagged closures of Bank of Melbourne branches.

And consumer watchdog the ACCC reports that another bank’s customers have lost more than $6.3 million in a continuing scam.

Might there, in fact, be a correlation between branch closures and our older citizens falling victim to scams? 

The handling of branch closures – are banks doing enough for those affected?

Confirming a causal link between branch closures and customers being scammed would require some expert statistical research.

However, one aspect of the federal government’s Scamwatch 2023 Scam Statistics report stands out. It shows Australians over 65 are the ‘leading’ age group among scam victims.

This was true when measuring by the number of victims (72,520 compared to 44,377 in the 45-54 age group) and also by the amount of money victims lost ($120,970,735 compared to $100,807,481).

Another report, commissioned by ANZ in 2022, shows that 45 per cent of Australians aged 65 or older used bank branches, compared to 33 per cent aged 64 and under. Clearly then, it is the over 65 age group that will be most affected by a local branch closure.

In the Australian Treasury’s Regional Bank Taskforce final report, delivered in September 2022, it made seven recommendations. This included the following:

“Banks should continue to provide digital literacy support for people experiencing vulnerability and coordinate with the government on digital education programs, such as the government’s ‘Be Connected’ program for improving digital literacy for older Australians.”

But how well are the banks doing in this area?

What needs to be done to protect older Australians?

A scan of the Big Four banks’ websites revealed that three provided online links to the government’s ‘Be Connected’ program.

Of course, being able to find such links requires a certain level of digital literacy in the first place. One is therefore left to wonder if customers of closing branches are being appropriately guided to such advice.

In light of the announcements made last week, YourLifeChoices has contacted the Commonwealth and Westpac banks and is awaiting replies from both.

If bank branch closures are to continue, as seems inevitable, it is reasonable to expect banks to do more to help those exposed to the greatest risk as a result – older Australians.

In many cases, those older Australians have been their bank’s most loyal customers. They’ve earnt some protection.

Has your local bank branch closed? Do you feel you received adequate advice and protection in making the transition? Let us know via the comments section below. 

Also read: Branch closures pushing vulnerable even further behind

Disclaimer: All content on YourLifeChoices website is of a general nature and has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. It has been prepared with due care but no guarantees are provided for the ongoing accuracy or relevance. Before making a decision based on this information, you should consider its appropriateness in regard to your own circumstances. You should seek professional advice from a financial planner, lawyer or tax agent in relation to any aspects that affect your financial and legal circumstances.

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigaczhttps://www.patreon.com/AndrewGigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.

13 COMMENTS

  1. Our main bank closed last year. We were told to use the post office. Does the government even realise that post offices have enough work and not enough space or staff to take on all the people who need banking facilities? Post offices are not really safe area’s to use in the first place. Our post office is very small and everyone can hear what is being mentioned by the customer. Who wants to ask to draw money out in a post office.
    Banks have now gone too far, and it all started with people having to have a bank account to pay their wages into. Banks are just robbing everyone.
    We now have to travel 60 klm’s to access our bank. We are elderly, so this is so difficult for us. I refuse to do internet banking, it is not safe. Cash is king!

    • Internet banking is not safe???
      What happens when someone steals from your bank account, you get the money back.
      What happens when someone robs you of your cash…….it’s gone forever.

      The ignorance here is astounding, in the 2023 fin year 10.7 Billion debit card transactions occurred in Australia, think about that, the number is massive and that’s not counting credit cards and electronic transfers.

      Electronic fraud is 0.05% of transactions, that’s the same as 0.5 fraudulent transactions for every 1,000 transactions. I can confidently say robberies are far higher.

  2. At the very least the increase in scams is a consequence of the banks actions and grab for increased profit.

    The banks have steathily reduced direct access to the banks by firstly closing branches and replacing them with ATMs which were then withdrawn or replaced with private pay ATMs or nothing at all. The move has been the relentless increase in profitability at the cost of customer service and convenience. If they replaced branches and ATMs with decent phone services it would help but they haven’t. A wait of 30 minutes to talk to someone in India or the Philippines is not good enough, while during the wait we are constantly told to use the internet which failed to solve the problem in the first place.

    The scammers couldn’t replicate a visit to a bank branch but they can easily replicate the the cheap communication methods the banks now use, email, text, internet and phones so it’s inevitable that the unwary will be cheated.

    At the very least banks could put a hold on all exceptional transactions until cleared with the customer. Seriously, how likely would a 75 year old be transferring $50,000 to Nigeria or Uzbekistan?

    Banks can do far more to protect customers but clearly they dont care enough while their executives gets their fat bonuses.. Maybe the low volume of scams of each bank should be a government mandated KPI on which executive bonuses are dependent!

  3. I would like to raise a related issue.

    Every Australian phone number used by the scammers must have been sold by an Australian telco. If you or I want to buy a new phone or register a new sim card we get put through the third degree with drivers licence, Medicare card etc and confirming our homes address. Why is the same process not used for these phone number sold to overseas users and if it is, why can’t the scammers using them be easily traced?

      • I don’t think you understand Greg. For foreign scammers to operate from an Australian phone number, they have to buy the phone numbers they use to call or text FROM and can’t just use a computer to generate numerous phone numbers to call FROM or text FROM. Try it yourself!

  4. The Big 4 banks have all deserted Lavington (2641, a suburb of Albury). It was done over several years – first ANZ, then CBA, then Westpac, and last was NAB. The only place to use these days fee-free is the post office, which is the biggest pain to park near and then having to wait soooo long just to transact with them. These banks have branches in Albury, but it can be up to 2 hours to get there and return by woefully inadequate public transport. Many elderly people don’t have access to public transport (there’s some good services, but it doesn’t cover every street, and many of them are extremely long), thus cutting off those who require public transport to get ‘into town’ to use a branch.

    I now live 60 minutes north, and enjoy being able to walk into a bricks-and-mortar branch to do some transactions.

    I’m 65+, and because I’ve been familiar with computers for over 40 years, I have no problems with accessing my banking online. I pay my bills online then withdraw my spending & food funds for the fortnight.

    I refuse to use a card for spending & food – as every single transaction is on my statement, and I don’t want to reconcile 6-8 pages of transactions every month! I do keep an eye on my cash funds by using Excel and MYOB (my accounting package – I’m a qualified bookkeeper and have used them for over 25 years). It might seem I ‘go overboard’ with my finances, but if you have to live on the meagre Age pension, you have to really budget down to the last cent, especially if you pay some bills fortnightly, monthly, or even annually, and to be able to pay the longer bills you have to be able to put funds aside for them on a regular basis.

    • Now fight back. Every trade who deals with a bank Johnie when they quote for a job take their time to get to the job, get it half done then go off for more parts. Return the next day to complete the job
      Could interesting if the job was plumbing-water off for 24 hours. Electrician the same power off for 24 has, car mechanic like wise 2 days. Any trade that requires close down should go down well to the Bank people to get a bit of their medicine
      Make sure it is not is the bank you deal with.

    • 6-8 pages? What the hell are you buying to get that many? I occasionally make it to a second page.

      The best way to keep track of expenses is to use an App, the one I use is very simple to use, everytime you pay out money log the transaction, you now have a record broken up into as many categories as you like, you can see weekly, monthly, yearly costs or any period you like. I haven’t used cash for over a decade now, just so much easier with cards and online banking.

  5. PS, I know how to ‘spot’ a scam, and will NEVER act on an email, or text message, but will contact the bank if ever I’m not sure. My bank also has messages on my internet banking to be aware of scams, and to NEVER open a suspicious email, nor follow any ‘links’, especially if they want to confirm my account & password.

    • I’m the same. Having been computer literate since the mid 1980’s. But a lot of people our age, younger and older are not and these are the ones that need to be protected and educated by the banks.

  6. For banks to operate in Australia they have to have a banking license. With that license should come a responsibility to provide protection to people’s funds and promptly attend to customers queries.
    With the closure of branches they are making things very hard for many Australians and having to wait ages for a response when phoning, and being answered by someone overseas with an accent that is often to hard follow.
    A particular problem which had been highlighted recently is customers who are aware that something untoward is occurring with their account have great difficulty contacting the bank to report the matter, quite often being moved from one area to another because the initial responder does not handle the matter.
    It is about time that the Government made it a condition of holding a banking license that they maintain dedicated call centers in Australia, manned by people with good English, to hand calls regarding suspected scams. There must be sufficient staff so that a call is answered within 5 minutes of receiving the call. A log of each call should be maintained and a copy of the log forwarded to the relevant Govt depart to ensure that calls are answerer promptly. There should be a fine for every breach of the standard.
    The Banks, of course, would make a big fuss if this was brought into force, but they would only have to apply a billion dollars from their profits to fund such a scheme.
    They want to have a banking licence, there should be some onus on them to look after customers.
    Good idea??

  7. The banks could start with the Australian Banking Association actually having information days at aged care facilities. Or even government run in conjunction with Centrelink with contributions from the Australian Banking Association. This would go a long way to repairing the very low reputation banks currently enjoy.
    How about asking the Australian Banking Association CEO Anna Bligh for her thoughts and input on this suggestion.
    The banks make billions from us every year so investing in such an endeavour would only be beneficial.

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