By April this year, three banks will have closed branches in West End in less than 12 months.

The Suncorp Branch on Boundary Street permanently closed in October last year because, they said, customers are changing the way they bank and are no longer visiting branch offices. The West End branch was one of 19 Suncorp branches closed Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.

The Westpac Branch on Boundary Street closed late last year when the building it leased was sold and demolished as part of the West Village development.

This week the ANZ has announced it will close its West End branch on 7 April along with 18 other branches, mostly in NSW and Victoria.

ANZ Managing Director of Retail, Katherine Bray said the closures were prompted by customers moving to digital banking.

“There has been a significant spike in customers choosing digital options to do everything from shopping and ordering food through to engaging with healthcare providers and doing their own banking, which is convenient and secure.”

“Last year alone, 70 per cent of our customers preferred digital banking options. Even our few remaining passbook customers have been choosing to use debit cards for the first time,” Ms Bray said.

Ms Bray said only 12 per cent of ANZ customers used branches during the same period.

“Which means we were only completing about one transaction per customer per month over the counter. This follows a longer-term trend that saw in-branch transactions drop on average about 50 per cent over the past four years.”

The Secretary of the Queensland Branch of the Finance Sector Union (FSU), Wendy Streets told The Westender that changes in banking behaviour have been forced on people by the COVID 19 pandemic.

“As for closing branches, we find it outrageous. What they’re claiming is that people are not going to banks anymore, that foot traffic is down significantly. Therefore, they’re moving with the numbers.”

Ms Streets said in fact, the significant reduction in branch banking in the last 12 months has been due to the pandemic, and is not customer driven.

“The reality is over the last 12 months our industry has been listed as an essential service, which we agree with – people need to have banking facilities close to them. So, our members who work in branches within their communities have needed to work all through lockdowns around Australia. They have had to go to work just like nurses and drivers and lots of other people in our community because the Government has deemed them to be essential workers. But yet, the ANZ is using the foot traffic example to say people have turned away and are just doing online banking.“

Community and Business are impacted by branch closures

Ms Streets told The Westender that bank closures impact staff and negatively affect communities with the latest branch closure potentially taking money out of West End.

“People usually do their shopping where they do their banking. So, people won’t shop in West End if there are no banks and they need a bank to shop.”

“We know from a long history of branch closures, back in the late 90s and the early 2000s, when banks leave communities, they very quickly wither on the vine, because people have to go elsewhere to transact.”

Ms Streets said branch closures can also be difficult for small and family businesses, who have to go further afield to do their banking.

Co-owner of West End’s Avid Reader Bookshop, Fiona Stager, said retail businesses like hers still deal in cash and continue to rely on branch banking for their daily cash float. She said that since their bank closed its West End branch, staff have had to access branches outside of the suburb.

“This is time-consuming and an imposition on staff,” she said.

Ms Stager said she agrees with the Finance Sector Union’s assessment that customers are more likely to shop in the suburb where they do their banking.

“Bank closures also impact residents, especially older people and those on lower incomes, who rely on branch banking to access cash,” Ms Stager said.

Staff Impacts

Ms Streets said the FSU does not yet know how many staff will be impacted by the branch closures, nor whether any will be redeployed to other ANZ branches.

“We are hopeful, and we’ll fight for them to be redeployed.”

ANZ spokesperson Katherine Bray said the bank was able to find new roles or redeployment opportunities for nearly all employees working in a branch that closed last year.

“These were some of our most experienced staff and we redeployed them to where our customers need them most.”

“For all employees who leave, we provide access to unlimited career coaching and outplacement support as well as access to our career training fund. Where people face financial hardship after leaving ANZ, we will provide access to our Past Employee Care Fund to support them.”

Ms Streets of the FSU said that in order to compensate people who lost their jobs in the middle of a pandemic, the ANZ increased its retrenchment payments in 2020 to an amount above that set out in their certified agreement. However, she said, the bank has announced that the additional funds will not be available after March this year.

“So, any staff from West End or any of the other branches that are closing from the April deadline will not receive the increased benefits that the ANZ was giving to people in 2020.”

Ms Streets said the Union would continue to lobby the Government.

“We think the Government has got a part to play here. You can’t have an essential service on the one hand and then on the other hand, turn a blind eye to banks walking away from these communities,” Ms Streets said.

Other Banks in West End

Several banks still have branches in West End. Bank Australia, The Commonwealth Bank, Bank of Queensland and National Australia Bank (NAB) have branches in West End. If the trend toward digital banking continues, the question is how much longer will they stay.

NAB Retail Customer Executive, Sandra Haines, told the Westender that the NAB has no plans to close its West End branch.

“The NAB West End branch team continue to be available for our customers and are ready to help with their banking needs.”

“We love being part of the community in West End, helping our customers with everything from their everyday banking, purchasing a home or with loans to kick-start small businesses.”

Ms Haines did say however that the way NAB customers are choosing to bank has changed in recent years, with more than 93% of customer interactions now taking place over the phone, by video or online.

“To support this growth, we’re continuing to improve our digital platform to make it easier and faster”

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