CBA closing last branch in small town but residents are fighting back
The town of Junee will lose its only bank when Commonwealth Bank closes its doors in March.
When Junee solicitor Michael Commins received a letter “out of the blue” that his local Commonwealth Bank branch was closing, he was annoyed.
“It irked me that the bank just unilaterally decided to close the branch down. There was no warning and there was no consultation,” Commins told Yahoo Finance.
Now, residents of the regional NSW town have banded together in a ‘David and Goliath’ battle against Commonwealth Bank to save their last branch.
Also read: Westpac to close another 23 branches
Also read: Bankwest shutters all east coast branches
Also read: ‘Crisis point’ as 37 major bank branches close: ‘Must act’
While they successfully delayed the initial closure of the bank in December, the branch is still scheduled to close its doors in March. When this happens, nearly 7,000 of Junee’s residents will be forced to drive an 80-kilometre round trip to access face-to-face banking in the neighbouring town of Wagga Wagga.
Commonwealth Bank has told residents they can access Australia Post’s Bank@Post services for basic services like withdrawals and deposits. But Commins, who uses a wheelchair, said Junee’s branch was not accessible so he wouldn’t be able to use it. The only other ATM that will be left in town charges a $2.50 fee for each withdrawal.
Junee Shire Council general manager James Davis said a number of residents had raised concerns about the closure.
“They indicated that the bank closure will marginalise community members because they might be vulnerable, frail, aged or they might not own a phone or connect to the internet,” Davis said.
“That’s what the bank is missing - many of their customers don’t have those literacy skills and are intimidated by online banking, given the anxiety around scams and fraud activity.”
Rhiannon Druce, who is the general manager of the Junee Licorice and Chocolate Factory, told Yahoo Finance the closure would impact almost every single small business in town, with most customers still preferring to pay with cash.
“It’s going to put a lot of pressures and security risks on us if we have to travel to the neighbouring town of Wagga, which is 40 minutes away, to do a five- or 10-minute job,” Druce said.
According to Commonwealth Bank, the decision to close the Junee branch came down to a drop in banking activities.
“After a recent review, we made the difficult decision to permanently close our Junee branch, which has had a 37 per cent drop in transactions over the five years before the coronavirus pandemic,” Commonwealth Bank regional general manager Norm Swift said in a statement to Yahoo Finance.
“We’ve redeployed the vast majority of staff from branches that have closed, and are working closely with our people from Junee branch to support securing appropriate comparable roles suitable to their needs.”
The major bank said it understood “some senior customers” preferred face-to-face banking and directed them to the Wagga Wagga, Cootamundra and Temora branches, as well as Australia Post’s Bank@Post service.
Regional towns ‘abandoned’
Commins, who has been a solicitor in Junee for the past 32 years, said it was time for banks to be held accountable.
“At a very minimum, I think they should commit to undertaking the obligations of the Banking Code of Conduct, which is an informal code that hasn’t been legislated,” he said.
“Maybe there needs to be some consideration to legislating requirements for banks before they decide to pull the rug on these small communities.”
According to the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, 575 regional banks closed between mid-2017 and mid-2021. Some suggest a further 129 banks closed since the start of January 2022, with 26 towns left with no bank.
This month, the remote town of Coober Pedy in South Australia will also lose its only bank when Westpac closes its branch. Residents will need to travel six hours to the nearest bank in Port Augusta, which is more than 500 kilometres away.
“The banks are abandoning small communities and we think the Federal Government needs to step in and stop that. That’s why we are seeking a moratorium on all bank closures, including ours,” Davis said.
Follow Yahoo Finance on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter, and subscribe to our free daily newsletter.