From the high street to the web: Banking options explained

Oct 22, 2019
Gone are the days when your only option was to pop down to the local bank on the high street. Source: Getty.

While advances in technology have made most aspects of modern life simpler, with apps for everything from budgeting and banking, to fitness, utilities and even food delivery, many among us still prefer to do things the old-fashioned way. The same goes for banking as, while most youngsters have hopped on the online banking bandwagon, many people still feel more comfortable dealing with their cash at the local branch.

Regardless of your personal preferences though, banking has undergone a dramatic transformation in recent years, with the emergence of banking apps, digital banks and neobanks, all geared towards making the process of managing your money simpler and quicker.

So, whether you’re a faithful in-branch customer or even if you’ve never stepped foot inside a local bank, here’s everything you need to know about your banking options, from the high street to the web.

Traditional banking

It might seem crazy that traditional in-branch banking is now viewed as ‘old-fashioned’ by the youth of today but, for those under the age of 30, the idea of popping down to the local Commonwealth Bank or Westpac building might seem strange. For many older Aussies though, this is still the preferred way to keep track of their finances, whether it’s depositing money over the counter or meeting an adviser to discuss opening a new account or remortgaging.

Australia’s ‘traditional’ banking scene is dominated by ‘The Big Four’ – Commonwealth Bank, National Australia Bank (NAB), ANZ and Westpac. The most obvious pull for customers is the physical presence of both a building and staff, as many people prefer to be able to see and speak to somebody about their money, rather than spending hours placed on hold or waiting for an online bot to respond to your query.

One thing that has changed though – particularly since the introduction of comparison sites such as Finder and Compare the Market – is the tendency to choose your bank or financial institution purely based on location, as previous generations would have deposited their cash at the nearest branch, purely for convenience. Nowadays though, it’s quick and easy to compare interest rates and perks online or over the phone, making sure you choose the best bank to suit your needs. However, Rod Attrill from Compare the Market previously told Starts at 60 that many senior Australians could be losing out by simply sticking with the same provider, citing his own parents as prime examples, having banked with the same institution for six decades.

Online Banking

The majority of banks and financial institutions across Australia have online arms, allowing customers to log on via an app or through the website, providing access to their account information at funds 24/7. By doing so, customers can make transactions and manage their finances without having to leave the comfort of their own home.

Nowadays, customers can even use mobile banking apps to apply for credit cards and home loans, removing the need for people to ever visit their local branch, which is perhaps why so many branches have closed their doors for good in recent years. According to government data, between 1991 and 2003, more than 2,000 banks shut up shop across the country.

While online banking is hugely popular across Australia, customers are not limited to managing their money in this way and always have the option to visit a branch of their chosen bank or financial institution should they prefer to deposit cash or a cheque in person, or make an appointment to sit down with a member of staff.

Digital banks

Digital banks, or online-only banks, operate entirely online, through a website or app on your mobile device. The biggest difference between old-fashioned banks and digital banks being the lack of a physical presence, meaning customers can check their funds, transfer cash or even open new accounts at any time of the day.

However digital banks are not the same as neobanks – which are explained below – as they are often a division of a bigger bank or credit union. For example some of Australia’s most popular digital banks are UBank, which is owned by NAB, ME Bank, owned by Industry Super Funds and Easy Street, owned by Community First Credit Union.

Neobanks

While you might be familiar with online banking apps, such as those offered by NAB and CommBank, chances are you haven’t been introduced to neobanks just yet. A relatively new player on the Australian banking scene, neobanks operate entirely digitally, with no branches or physical infrastructure, and are entirely independent of traditional banks.

This concept may seem alien to those of us who are used to nipping down to the local branch on the high street, which is perhaps why they are most popular with younger users. Finder.com.au Editor-in-Chief Angus Kidman previously told Starts at 60 that neobanks are predominantly used by younger demographics, however he does expect their customer base to broaden as they develop.

Some of the neobanks currently operating in Australia include Archa, Volt Bank, Xinja Bank and 86 400 (cleverly named after the number of seconds in one day). Xinja CEO Eric Wilson estimates that 9 percent of their customer base are aged 65-plus, adding that using neobanking isn’t about being of a certain generation but having a certain mindset.

If you’re concerned about the safety of your money though, there’s no need to fear neobanks as they are required to obtain a banking license, just like the Big Four or other large banks. They’re also regulated by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) and the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC).

Important information: The information provided on this website is of a general nature and for information purposes only. It does not take into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. It is not financial product advice and must not be relied upon as such. Before making any financial decision you should determine whether the information is appropriate in terms of your particular circumstances and seek advice from an independent licensed financial services professional.

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