Regional banks get the green light to go app

Article published 5 October 2022

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IN October last year we wrote about the Regional Banking Taskforce, which was established by the Government “to bring together banks, regional communities and other stakeholders” to look at the impacts of bank branch closures in regional areas and how to support individuals to access alternatives.

With branch closures not showing signs of slowing down any time soon, it’s important to ensure people have access to their money no matter what.

After receiving over 400 responses to their issues paper (you can read CPSA’s submission here), the final report was released last Friday with seven main recommendations to support regional customers.

These recommendations include:

  • Reviewing and strengthening the Australian Banking Association’s Branch Closure Protocol.
  • Implementing branch closure impact assessments.
  • Promoting and supporting Bank@Post services, where regional post offices carry out some essential banking functions.
  • Maintaining access to cash.
  • Improving support for regional consumers experiencing vulnerability.
  • Continuing to support and improve digital connectivity and literacy in regional areas.
  • Reviewing the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) Points of Presence collection, which provides information on the location of ATMs, branches and other face-to-face banking locations.

The common thread running through these recommendations is increasing consultation and communication with the communities affected by branch closures.

While the current Branch Closure Protocol requires member banks to give sufficient warning of closures and assistance transitioning to alternatives, in reality this doesn’t always happen.

Strengthening this protocol, as well as requiring banks to conduct and publish impact assessments, should provide greater transparency for those affected on why the closure is occurring, what alternatives there are and what support they can get accessing it.

However, there remain some bigger problems than just improving communication.

Raising awareness of and supporting the transition to Bank@Post services will help many with their day-to-day banking needs like deposits, transfers and paying bills. But other services like opening or closing accounts, activating credit cards and applying for a loan or mortgage still aren’t available.

Further, while over eighty banks participate, customers with banks like ANZ can’t access the service.

This means a large group of people will still have to travel long distances to shopfront branches for at least some of their banking needs.

Improving support for vulnerable customers and improving digital literacy are once again very important goals. In theory, that will help many access banking services. Programs like the Commonwealth’s Be Connected provide resources to address the digital divide and help older Australians become more familiar with internet banking.

But this will only offer so much help until other programs like the Better Connectivity for Rural and Regional Australia Plan, that pledges to boost NBN speeds, provide better mobile coverage and improve connectivity, come to fruition.

Online banking simply isn’t an option for many in regional areas where internet and mobile coverage isn’t reliable.

While these recommendations offer a start in acknowledging the vast impacts of branch closures for regional communities, more still needs to be done to make alternatives viable.

The Taskforce’s report clearly did not consider that a bank licence should come with an obligation to also service the needs of those who can’t go digital.

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