Many Australians are being forced to move towards digital banking as branch closures which started in response to COVID-19 are being made permanent.
Data from the Finance Sector Union (FSU) said there have been over 290 permanent shutdowns completed, or still in the works, since early 2020 when physical distancing measures were introduced.
FSU national secretary Julia Angrisano said the number of branch closures was growing at its fastest rate since the early 2000s.
“It’s a real blow to the forgotten Australians,” she said. “Not everybody can move to digital banking – people with disabilities, those with low levels of digital literacy, and those with English as a second language or limited access to transport.”
Angrisano said banks announcing branch closures leave many who work in branches feeling uneasy.
She added that the banks are just using COVID as an excuse and that the reduced foot traffic was due to the pandemic closures not because customers didn't need the facilities.
“The pandemic has fast-tracked the closures – it forced people to move to digital banking as a necessity to keep people safe and at home,” Angrisano said.
“They have used the pandemic as an excuse to close branches at a faster rate.”
The response comes as NAB confirmed it was moving many branches to digital only with regional areas being targeted.
NAB executive of retail Krissy Jones said the decision to permanently close some branches was guided by how customers were banking.
“More than 93% of customer interactions are now taking place over the phone, by video or online. Over the past several years, fewer customers are coming into branches and foot traffic has lessened dramatically,” she said.
“Over the last year alone, we have seen a further 30 per cent reduction in over the counter and basic servicing transactions in our branches.”
However, Jones said that while NAB’s physical branch presence in some areas will no longer be there, the bank will still be there for its customers - just in different ways.
“As more and more customers are choosing to bank online, we’re investing in improving our digital platform to make it easier and faster. We are also training our bankers in regional Australia with new skills to serve customers in these channels,” she said.
“We are adding more than 280 colleagues to assist customers with phone and digital banking enquiries, and into operations roles. We are recruiting around the country, including in regional locations, as we have shown through COVID-19, our bankers can work remotely from anywhere.”
Jones said an additional 134 new small business bankers are being recruited and will also be based in regional locations across the country.
“When we do close a branch, our goal is for no job losses. We work with our colleagues to find opportunities to continue to support customers either through other branch roles or across phone and digital channels,” Jones said.