Australia’s biggest lender, the Commonwealth Bank, has announced it will extend its promise not to close any regional branches for at least three more years.
Following a grassroots backlash in February when branches, including Junee’s last bricks-and-mortar bank, faced closure, the CBA had agreed to a pause for 2023 while a Senate committee conducts an inquiry into the impact on regional communities.
Westpac followed suit and agreed to halt the planned closure of eight regional branches until the report is released in December 2023.
Junee’s Licorice and Chocolate Factory was part of the community protest that triggered the inquiry and celebrated the news.
“Today’s announcement from the CBA is a great win for regional areas which I hope other banks follow to keep regional branches open,” said Rhiannon Druce from the Licorice and Chocolate Factory.
“Even though more people are using remote banking methods it is still important for communities in regional areas to have easy access to bank branches when seeking mortgage approvals or depositing large sums of cash which many businesses still do”
‘’The population in many regional towns is growing so it makes sense to keep banks open there.”
Last week, NAB announced it will close branches in Temora and Gundagai, along with plans for a $2.9 million investment in a banking hub in Wagga.
Temora Mayor Rick Firman labelled the move a “kick in the belly” for the community, while Cootamundra-Gundagai Mayor Charlie Sheahan said it was challenging.
“There’s no real commitment to customer service at all. It’s profit-driven, and they are ignoring our communities,” he said.
CBA closed 68 branches in the last financial year, but will now maintain all existing regional branches until at least the end of 2026.
“We recognise the way people are banking is changing, with more customers adopting the benefits offered by digital and phone-based services,” said Retail Banking Services group executive Angus Sullivan.
“Through this time of change, we want to support customers in regional areas who prefer banking in branches and so we will maintain our existing face-to-face services in these communities.”
Federal Member for Riverina Michael McCormack said the CBA was doing its duty as a responsible corporate citizen.
“I appreciate that it is not a guarantee of banks staying open, but it is a commitment to the regions,” Mr McCormack said, before taking a veiled jab at the NAB.
“I encourage all banks with a regional footprint to follow this lead to ensure our smaller communities are reassured in what are challenging times for all Australians.
Mr Sullivan said the CBA would continue to evolve its digital platforms and develop “multi-channel branches” that provided face-to-face services the first part of the day, before the office closed to customers and branch staff transitioned to assist online support and call centres.
Further details on the Senate inquiry into regional bank closures can be found here. The committee is due to hand down its report and recommendations on 1 December, 2023.