The FSU recently spoke on behalf of our regional and remote members at the Senate Inquiry into regional bank closures in Cloncurry and Ingham. From evidence provided at the hearings, it’s clear big banks are continuing to overlook their social responsibilities to the communities they are meant to serve.
At the hearings, FSU Qld Local Executive Secretary Wendy Streets stressed the critical importance of community consultation, a responsibility that ANZ seems to overlook consistently.
Lack of consultation and poor communication
ANZ executives embarrassingly admitted that decisions on branch closures are taken solely by managers in state capitals. This means there is never any community consultation before branches are closed and provides no opportunity for local communities to voice objections. ANZ’s senior executives also displayed a disturbing ignorance about any social obligations, an issue we will continue to address.
Wendy also voiced our collective frustration about the poor communication from Westpac regarding their decision to reverse previously announced regional bank closures – the FSU and the local community only discovered several branches would no longer close from Federal Member Bob Katter, rather than through direct communication from Westpac. This lack of consultation and communication epitomises an industry drifting away from its social responsibilities.
Another key issue that arose from the hearings was the use of foot traffic as the only KPI for branch viability, which we consider an outdated and limited metric because it means banks can justify pulling out of regional towns even if they are still profitable.
We also heard allegations from community members that Westpac was transferring larger accounts out of branches ahead of closures, showing possible covert tactics in their approach to regional branch management.
Lastly, we witnessed Suncorp’s anti-union behaviour at the hearings, saying they would not engage with the FSU unless legally required. However, they acknowledged their consultation processes could and should be better and said they were committed to improving in that area.
We’re making progress
Despite this, it’s important we celebrate and acknowledge that our collective efforts have led to positive change. In a significant win and as earlier mentioned, Westpac reversed its decision to close eight regional bank branches (including those in Cloncurry and Ingham) thanks to pressure from us and our members.
While this decision is fantastic news, we find it disappointing that Westpac chose not to show up at the Senate Inquiry to address these critical issues directly.
These Westpac members in Ingham nearly had their branch shut down.
They told us how stressful it was to deal with the poor communication from Westpac about the closure, and their devastation at having to leave an elderly community that relied heavily on them to provide essential banking services. It was only thanks to the efforts of our members and the community that Westpac was pressured into reversing their decision.
Westpac members are pictured with FSU Qld Local Executive Secretary Wendy Streets (middle).
Here’s what we think should happen to better support regional banks:
- Banks need to be adhering to minimum service standards.
- A new mandatory code for branch closures, including penalties for breaches is needed.
- Community impact assessments ahead of closures should be mandatory.
- An appeal mechanism is needed for communities to dispute the banks decisions.
- There needs to be a right of review for communities if post-closure arrangements don’t work.
- Banking licences should include community service obligations to keep regional branches open.
Thank you to all our regional members who made the time to meet with Wendy in Cloncurry and Ingham, and to share your important feedback and experiences with us.
We’re committed to making sure your voices are heard by those at the top of the banking industry, and we’ll continue to campaign to ensure as many regional and remote banks as possible stay open.