The Senate Inquiry into regional bank closures moved to WA this month and held hearings in Carnamah and Beverley.
These hearings heard evidence from local community members and businesses as well as community groups and local government. Bankwest was the only Bank who appeared at these hearings but what they had to say reinforced what we already know.
Bankwest admit consultation doesn’t influence decision making
One of the most extraordinary things to come out of the hearing at Beverly on 16 August was when Bankwest representative Robert Cory, Head of External Communications and Sustainability, admitted that community consultation took place AFTER a decision had been made because there was no chance of community consultation having an impact on the decision to close branches.
Banking is an essential service
These hearings heard from a wide range of stakeholders and it didn’t matter if the witness was appearing as a local government official, a local business owner, or a private citizen, the one thing they all had in common was the belief that banking is an essential service.
Witnesses spoke of the banking services no longer available to them that aren’t counted when measuring the viability of local branches. Some of the essential services include:
- Adding or changing signatories to bank accounts for community groups
- Changing PIN numbers on credit and or debit cards
- Being identified
- Paying off credit card bills
- Opening loan accounts
- Gaining financial support for hardship
- Negotiating a better rate on loan accounts
- Closing accounts or opening new accounts in the case of fraud
- Assistance with financial abuse for the elderly and people impacted by family violence
- Sponsorship of local community groups and events.
The ABA Banking Code of Practice isn’t working
A number of witnesses made reference to the voluntary banking code of practice and its inability to be enforced when the code is developed, monitored and reviewed by the banks and the banks only.
Bankwest’s decision to close its business banking business and remain only as a retail bank was criticized by local businesses. These locals are now forced to pick up the cost of fuel and relief staff as some are forced to travel hundreds of kilometres for their business banking needs.
While many of the witnesses were keen to embrace new technology, they bemoaned the lack of reliable internet services when 2 factor authentication was required for many of their transactions. Local Australia Post franchisees spoke of their inability to access gold coins, with one post office taking the extreme measure of advertising to ask people to bring in gold coins in exchange for notes so they would have enough change to operate.
One thing is clear – something needs to change.
The hearings move to Launceston, Canberra and Junee in September, and we’ll continue to keep members updated.