With COVID-19 accelerating the trend toward online banking, banks are shuttering branches by the hundreds
Bank branches across Australia are shuttering at the fastest rate in two decades as the COVID-19 pandemic pushes customers toward digital banking in ever greater numbers.
Since the pandemic began early last year, there have been more than 290 permanent branch closings completed or scheduled, according to a report by The Australian. Temporary COVID-19-related branch closures are continuing, and hundreds of ATMs have shut down, in what the Finance Sector Union called “a real blow to communities.”
FSU national secretary Julia Angrisano said there had been a spike in branch closures over the last two years, and the number of shuttered branches was growing at the fastest pace since the early 2000s.
“It’s a real blow to the forgotten Australians,” she told The Australian. “Not everybody can move to digital banking – people with disabilities, those with low levels of digital literacy, and those with English as a second language or limited access to transport.”
Leaders from the big four banks are scheduled to appear before a Parliamentary committee Thursday and Friday. Angrisano called on the banks to outline future branch closure plans “so we’re not dealing with death by a thousand cuts.”
“The pandemic has fast-tracked the closures – it forced people to move to digital banking as a necessity to keep people safe and at home,” she said. “They have used the pandemic as an excuse to close branches at a faster rate.”
A Commonwealth Bank spokeswoman told The Australian that while the pandemic hadn’t changed how CBA determined its branch footprint, it had “accelerated a continuing shift in customer preferences toward digital and contact centre services.”
Some regional CBA branches that recently closed had seen transactions plummet by nearly half in the last five years, the spokeswoman said.
Krissie Jones, National Australia Bank general manager of retail, told the publication that the bank’s investment in services and locations was determined by how customers banked – and most were banking remotely.
“More than 93% of customer interactions are now taking place over the phone, by video or online,” Jones said. “Over the past several years, fewer customers are coming into branches, and foot traffic has lessened dramatically. Over the last year alone, we have seen a further 30% reduction in over-the-counter and basic servicing transactions in our branches. When we do close a branch, our goal is for no job losses. … The branch team also works closely with local customers, the community, business and government stakeholders.”
Last week, Westpac and its subsidiaries, Bank of Melbourne, St George and BankSA, began closing or co-locating 48 branches, The Australian reported. ANZ has closed or announced plans to close 131 branches since the beginning of the year. NAB has closed or plans to close 45, CBA 32, and Suncorp 20.