Banks abandoning communities: Branch closures leave Australians struggling for financial access

Feb 15, 2024
Closures are making banking more challenging for older individuals, businesses, and anyone requiring face-to-face assistance. Source: AAP PHOTOS.

In a troubling trend, banks are increasingly closing their doors on communities that need them the most, leaving vulnerable populations in rural Australia struggling to access essential financial services.

Research conducted by RMIT University reveals that more than a third of residents in regional areas face affordability stress when it comes to high-quality internet, affecting their ability to manage finances and purchase other necessary items.

The study, led by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society, indicates that 36 percent of people in outer regional areas spend over five percent of their household income on internet access, surpassing the levels experienced by urban counterparts. Furthermore, the report highlights the higher share of individuals in rural and remote Australia who need to allocate more than 10 percent of their income to access the internet.

“For many in this cohort, a reliable internet connection is beyond their economic reach,” the report states.

“Regional bank closures remove face-to-face services precisely in those geographic areas where there is a higher need for such services.”

The analysis of the Australian Digital Inclusion Index data underscores the pronounced technological gap between city and regional residents, particularly among older demographics. Since June 2017, nearly 800 country branches have shuttered, forcing some regional residents to travel long distances to manage their finances.

This year alone, three Commonwealth Bank branches are set to close across Australia by March 1, following a recent review citing declining customer demand.

The affected branches, located in Coogee (NSW), Coolangatta (Queensland), and Adelaide’s Rundle Mall (South Australia), will be permanently closed, according to a statement from the Commonwealth Bank.

The decision, deemed “difficult,” is based on progressive declines in customer transactions at these locations.

Another major Australian bank also announced a wave of branch closures across the country. NAB is poised to shutter numerous branches in major cities and regional areas across multiple states, claiming that customers increasingly prefer the convenience of online banking.

Approximately 36 branches in NSW, the ACT, Queensland, Victoria, and Western Australia are marked for closure. The decision, as outlined on the NAB website, attributes these closures to the growing trend of customers opting for online, phone, or video banking.

FSU National Secretary Julia Angrisano has expressed deep concerns over these closures, calling them a “betrayal of the community and staff in these areas.”

Angrisano stated that such moves make banking more challenging for older individuals, businesses, and anyone requiring face-to-face assistance.

“These announcements could not come at a worse time,” Angrisano said.

“It is a disgrace that NAB continues to aggressively pursue its branch closure strategy without genuine community engagement or employee consultation.

“After delivering an annual profit of $7.7 billion, NAB is still using branch closures to cut costs and boost profits. The bank could easily invest in these communities who rely on branches to meet their banking needs instead of shut them down.”

-with AAP.

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