Senators Richard Colbeck and Gerard Rennick listen intently to Westpac’s witnesses. Photo: Tom Parry
Read this full article at Gippsland Times & Maffra Spectator.
A Senate inquiry was held in Sale, Australia, to investigate bank closures in regional areas. Banking executives were asked about local branch closures and their lack of consultation with the community. Westpac’s Chief Customer Engagement Officer, Ross Miller, and National General Manager, Jason Green, were the first to be questioned. Miller noted that 96% of Westpac transactions are now conducted digitally, stating that it is driven by customer preference. He also acknowledged that not everyone is ready for digital banking and a small minority is apprehensive about the change. When asked about the closure of the Sale branch, Miller claimed that 95% of Westpac’s customer transactions can be done through Bank@Post service. He further stated that the decision to close a branch “is not made lightly,” and customer demographics and proximity to other branches are taken into consideration. NAB’s Retail Executives Krissie Jones and Mil Kairouz were also questioned about job losses and investment in regional areas.
Senator Gerard Rennick asked Westpac whether the company makes a profit in Wellington and if that was a factor in the closure of the Sale branch. Mr Miller responded by saying, “We look at the way people bank with us.” When asked about what happens to staff once a branch closes, Mr Miller said that most employees would either work from home or relocate to another branch. He estimated that 28% of affected employees look for work elsewhere, while 23% were retrenched. Senator Peter Whish-Wilson asked if Westpac executives received bonuses for saving money by closing branches, to which Mr Miller responded, “I’m remunerated to provide service to our customers.”
Senator Richard Colbeck took issue with Westpac’s claim that it consulted with the community, saying, “The only people you’re consulting with is yourselves.” Mr Miller responded by saying that Westpac’s data provides “incredibly strong insights” into how customers use its branches, and that decisions are based on that same data. Senator Rennick asked about the agreement Westpac had reached with Australia Post to provide the Bank@Post service, requesting a copy of that same agreement. Mr Miller denied the request, citing “commercial confidence.”
NAB’s Krissie Jones responded to Senator Rennick’s question on why NAB hadn’t invested in regional Australia by saying that a combined $70 million had been invested in the past three years at regional branches and banking centers. She further stated that branches had seen a 66% reduction in foot traffic. Ms Jones also revealed that $15 million was provided by NAB to Australia Post for their community banking services; however, she refused to provide a copy of the agreement, citing commercial sensitivities. Senator Ciccone asked whether NAB consults with government figures regarding branch closures; Ms Jones responded by saying that local members of parliament are contacted the day prior to when customers are told, while local councils are informed the same day as customers.
The Senate hearing in Sale highlighted the importance of consultation with the community, transparency in decision-making processes, and the need to provide alternative job opportunities to affected employees. It is crucial for banks to understand that the closure of branches has a significant impact on the community, especially in regional areas where access to digital banking may be limited. The hearing also revealed the role of Bank@Post services in providing an alternative option for customers.
Read the full article at Gippsland Times & Maffra Spectator.