Bankwest set to face grilling following mass branch closures

Mar 13, 2024
The controversy surrounding Bankwest's decision to close branches has escalated to the point where executives are now expected to face tough questions in a rural banking inquiry. Source: Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS.

Bankwest executives are set to front an inquiry probing rural bank closures, mere days after the company’s bombshell announcement of a complete branch shutdown in favour of online services.

Bankwest, a subsidiary of the Commonwealth Bank, sent shockwaves through the region with its decision to close the doors of 28 banks in the bustling Perth metropolitan area, along with 17 branches in regional Western Australia. Adding to the upheaval, 15 of these sites are slated for conversion into Commonwealth Bank branches.

Explaining the move, Bankwest cited the increasing preference of the majority of its customers for digital banking channels.

“This change enables us to invest in the digital channels the majority of our customers are increasingly choosing to do their banking with us,” the bank said in a statement on its website.

“We’re evolving into a digital bank.”

All Bankwest ATMs will also be closing, with the bank no longer operating off-premises machines.

“We recognise this may be difficult news if you or your loved ones bank in branch, or if you feel reassured knowing a branch is nearby. We’re committed to supporting you through this change,” the bank said.

However, this shift has left many customers feeling abandoned, particularly those who rely on in-branch services. Jason Hall, the national assistant secretary of the Finance Sector Union, didn’t mince words when he condemned the decision.

“This is an outrageous decision by Bankwest which has completely abandoned its customer base in order to cut costs and become a digital bank,” Hall said.

The controversy surrounding Bankwest’s actions has escalated to the point where executives are now expected to face tough questions in a rural banking inquiry, to be held in Tom Price, within Western Australia’s Pilbara region, on Wednesday, March 13.

National’s Senator Matt Canavan, who chairs the committee overseeing the inquiry, expressed disappointment at Bankwest’s closures, highlighting the impact on local communities.

“These closures will impact all the communities that they operate in, reducing banking choice and the ability to get an essential service,” Canavan said.

The broader inquiry, encompassing nearly 800 rural branch closures across Australia since June 2017, is delving into the reasons behind this trend. While major banks have pointed to the rise of digital banking and the decline in cash transactions, evidence from regional councils and communities suggests that online banking remains unreliable in areas with patchy phone and internet connections.

The inquiry is due to report back to parliament in May.

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