- The Guardian
- Issue #2064
ANZ bank in Jamestown, SA. Photo: denisbin – flickr.com (CC0)
In the past, every town no matter the size, was guaranteed to have two things: a pub and a bank. But in the last 25 years major banks have been leaving regional Australia in droves, devastating local communities, creating huge service gaps, and putting local economies under severe pressure.
On 8th February 2023, the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee initiated an inquiry into bank closures in regional Australia, with a report due by 1st December 2023. The inquiry will examine regional bank closures, their impacts, and possible solutions.
On 2nd March 2023, the Senate committee conducted its first hearing in Sale, Victoria, with the aim of examining the effects of branch closures. The FSU (Financial Sector Union) attended the hearing to advocate for the interests of our members, and to provide the inquiry with a comprehensive understanding of the real-world impacts that these closures can have on staff and the communities they serve.
An FSU survey of regional members found that 86 per cent of respondents believe they will have difficulty finding a new job if their local branch closes. Respondents cited factors such as ageism, distance to the next nearest branch, and lack of job experience as reasons for their difficulty.
Between June 2017 and June 2022 over 1600 bank branches were closed, with a disproportionate number of these branches located in regional Australia. Furthermore, it appears that without intervention this trend is set to continue, leaving more regional communities in its wake.
The Regional is an independent news source that tracks bank closures across Australia. Go to theregional.com.au to learn more about which communities have been affected.
MAKE BANKING AN ESSENTIAL SERVICE
The banking sector was deemed an essential service during the COVID shutdowns of 2020 and 2021, and bank workers were declared essential workers. Like energy and water, access to banking should be mandated as an essential service for the financial accessibility and the health of regional Australia. To establish minimum service standards, an industry-wide group should be formed. Any future branch closures must be evaluated against these standards and not proceed if the standards are not met.
INNOVATION OVER WITHDRAWAL
To remain financially viable in regional Australia banks should be focusing on innovation rather than cutting and running. Trials have demonstrated the effectiveness of the multi-branch approach, where banks have shorter trading hours and bank employees perform call centre duties. Additionally, deploying mobile branches that rotate through major towns can improve accessibility to banking services while reducing costs.
Members have said they are trained to steer customers towards using ATMs and online banking to decrease in-person visits to branches. This approach leads to job insecurity as FSU members may face disciplinary action or termination if they do not meet the targets. If members do meet these targets, as they have been instructed, then the banks have the evidence they need to implement the branch closures.
AFFECT ON WOMEN
The closing of regional branches in retail banking disproportionately affects women because they make up the majority of front-line staff. This results in a higher number of job losses for women, who already have less job security compared to men who our survey’s show are more likely to hold business banking and sales roles.
DO BANKS CARE?
Banks often make the decision to close branches with a primary focus on financial gain – overlooking the negative impact it has on the local communities and customers who rely on those branches. The Royal Commission into misconduct in the financial sector uncovered instances where banks have not sufficiently considered the consequences of such closures on their customers. Banks are willing to cop the bad publicity from the closures because for most people it is too much of a hassle to switch their bank accounts in protest. Banks may argue that they are adapting to the digital banking trend, but the reality is that these closures cause significant hardship, especially for those who are older, less mobile, or lack access to technology.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A BRANCH CLOSES?
When a branch closes, it can have significant negative effects on residents and businesses. These effects can include feelings of anxiety and concerns about safety and security, as well as additional costs associated with having to travel farther to access banking services. Furthermore, the loss of a financial service can lead to a loss of economic opportunities for the community, resulting in job losses and a decrease in business for local retailers. This can have a cascading effect on the community, leading to population decline, the loss of skills and experience, and even the erosion of cultural activities like the local footy, cricket, and netball team.