Westpac, NAB grilled over regional branch closures

Two of Australia’s big four banks have pointed to the rise of online banking to defend their decisions to close regional branches.

Facing a parliamentary hearing on Thursday morning, Westpac chief customer engagement officer Ross Miller said the lender’s regional closures were a direct result of customers preferring to do their banking transactions online.

A Senate inquiry is underway into why banks are shutting regional branches.Credit:Natalie Boog

“Ninety-six per cent of banking transactions are now done digitally,” Miller said. “Customers don’t want to travel. They want to be able to do their banking at any hour of the day from the comfort of their own home.”

In February, Westpac announced it would shut 20 regional and suburban branches across Queensland, Victoria, NSW and South Australia this year.

Miller said branch closures were determined based on factors including branch usage, transaction types, customer demographics, location and proximity to other banking services.

Several senators questioned the bank’s lack of consultation with communities before closing branches.

Tasmanian Senator Richard Colbeck has queried why regional bank branches are being moved.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

“If the communities are happy with this decision, why are we sitting here?,” Liberal Tasmanian Senator Richard Colbeck asked. “We’re getting representations from all over the country about this.”

Miller said the bank did not consult business groups or local councils before deciding to close branches, but that it would consider engaging with local councils in future.

The National Australia Bank’s executive of retail banking, Krissie Jones, said local mayors were informed of decisions to close branches at the same time that customer letters were sent out, but that they weren’t involved in the decision-making.

Jones said only 3 per cent of its customers solely relied on its branch network for banking in 2022.

‘Many of our customers are going to other locations to do their grocery shopping or to see the doctor.’

When asked about the need for customers in regions affected by branch closures to travel to another town for in-person banking services, Jones said that many were already doing so for other errands.

“Many of our customers are going to other locations to do their grocery shopping or to see the doctor,” she said.

Jones and Miller pointed to their banks’ partnerships with Australia Post, which enable them to offer their over-the-counter banking services through participating post offices.

Both Westpac and NAB were questioned about how the bank closures affected its staff in regional areas.

“We consult with staff right at the beginning of the process,” Miller said. “If we look at the cohort from regional areas, we’ve been able to successfully redeploy 48 per cent of them.”

Jones said NAB offered all employees affected by branch closures alternate roles with the bank, and that the lender had retained 97 per cent of its staff.

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