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New twist as Aussie bank faces backlash for closing all branches

Declining customer visits have caused the Commonwealth Bank subsidiary to close or rebrand 60 stores.

Bankwest has been called on to explain to a senate inquiry why it is closing dozens of branches in Western Australia. Customers are furious with the move and some are even closing their accounts as a result.

The Commonwealth Bank subsidiary announced this week it was moving to become a digital-only bank and would close 45 locations in the state. A further 15 branches will be rebranded under the Commonwealth Bank banner.

The bank said it's catering to customer demand for online services, but senator Matthew Canavan said they need to justify their choice, which he claims will negatively impact some Aussies, particularly those in regional areas.

Bankwest sign outside a branch
Bankwest is closing or rebranding the last remaining 60 branches in Australia. (Source: Getty)

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He's called on executives to front the Regional and Rural Affairs and Transport Committee hearings next week.

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“These closures will impact all the communities that they operate in, reducing banking choice and the ability to get an essential service,” he said.

“Even though all staff are being offered alternate career opportunities these could still see job losses as a result of requirements to move or take on substantially different roles to what they were working in previously.

Do you have a story to tell? Email me at stew.perrie@yahooinc.com

“Our regional communities already struggle with employment opportunities, and removing the jobs that these branches provide impacts smaller communities so much more than metropolitan centres.

“It’s quite clear that as a country we need to rethink the government’s approach to policy to protect regional banking services and ensure that it’s available to our communities.”

Why is Bankwest closing so many branches?

Bankwest said it has more than half a million customers in Western Australia, however fewer than 2 per cent of them visit a branch regularly, with only 15 over-the-counter transactions occurring in regional WA each day.

It said it could no longer justify having so many branches dotted across the state when virtually no one used them.

Bankwest executive general manager Jason Chan said this was not an easy decision to make.

“By doing this now and going a little bit harder, we can unlock that investment and get those jobs and get that new capability and lift the experience for 97 per cent of customers using digital channels,” he said.

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“It’s critical we prioritise investment for the majority of our customers who expect leading digital and broker banking services, and rarely use branches, but we have a clear focus on the needs of our regular branch users at this time.”

He said those employed at Bankwest branches would be offered new roles in the company.

“Our branch colleagues have invaluable knowledge and experience, and they will all be offered opportunities to access the next generation of banking jobs so they can continue to support customers nationwide from in their own communities,” he said.

When will the remaining Bankwest branches close?

The 45 Bankwest branches that have been earmarked for closure will close their doors by October this year. There are 28 locations in Perth and 17 in regional WA.

The remaining 15 branches that will be rebranded under the Commonwealth banner are expected to finish their transformation by the end of the year.

Bankwest said it would be contacting regular branch customers to explain to them how this decision would impact them and a range of options to help them transition.

What you need to know about the use of cash in Australia

  • Fewer people are using cash due to the convenience of paying with phones, watches and cards.

  • There isn’t a shortage of cash-withdrawal points, with around 20,000 ATMs plus supermarkets to collect from.

  • There’s about $100 billion in cash floating around Australia - or 2 billion notes

  • The government has not indicated cash will be taken out of circulation

  • The Big Four banks have all ruled out going cashless.

  • Average cash withdrawal has increased from $180 to $290.

  • RBA: ATM withdrawals dropped from 77.9 million in December 2008 to 29.7 million in June 2023.

  • Finder survey: 13 per cent of Aussies never use cash, 44 per cent use it once a week, and 42 per cent once a month or less.