Regional WA warns of ‘financial isolation’ from bank branch closures

Gerard CockburnThe West Australian
Westpac's Carnamah branch
Camera IconWestpac's Carnamah branch Credit: Supplied/RegionalHUB

Rural and regional West Australians fear they are being financially isolated by the growing closure of local bank branches.

Submissions to a Senate inquiry into the impact of regional branch closures are warning holes in communication infrastructure and an older population less familiar with online banking will limit access for customers living in their shire council areas.

One submission also warned that WA Indigenous communities will be disproportionately impacted by further shrinkage in regional and rural banking services.

The Shire of Carnamah, about 300km north of Perth, said the big banks had put profits ahead of community after Westpac closed the last remaining branch in the area in February.

Shire of Carnamah chief executive Robert Paull said Westpac ignored the needs of the community and closed the only physical bank branch within a 120km radius.

He claimed the bank did not consult with the community or undertake a social and economic impact assessment before the branch was axed.

“It is recognised that it is very unlikely that any legislative action will eventuate from the inquiry to reverse the decision of banks to close branches in rural and regional Australia,” Mr Paull said in the Shire of Carnamah’s submission.

“However, banks such as Westpac must be made to acknowledge the devastating impact branch closures have on communities like Carnamah and that our wider community remains deprived of an essential service.”

The WA Bridgetown branch of the Country Women’s Association expressed concern that black spots and a lack of telecommunication infrastructure in rural areas would lock residents out of reliable online banking services.

“In many regional areas ... telecommunications infrastructure is marginal and sometimes very poor,” the CWA said.

“We believe that this infrastructure issue will be exacerbated in more remotely located towns,especially those in the north of the state where distances to a bank can be more than 1000km.”

The CWA says there the big banks were taking a “cavalier attitude” to branch closures and the impact on regional communities, particularly small business which would be forced to close early to bank receipts in another town.

“If residents are forced to go to another bank in a different town, it is entirely likely that they will end up purchasing goods and services in that town, thereby reducing the viability of their own small town businesses,” the CWA said.

Australia Post does offer banking services at some regional post offices, but the Shire of Carnamah says these are inferior to the branch offering.

Westpac said it had alerted customers to the closure of the Carnamah branch, which was servicing less than two customers an hour.

“In Carnamah, we have closed our branch and transitioned these services to Bank@Post at Carnamah Post Shop, only 41 metres from the location of our former branch,” a Westpac spokeswoman said.

“Our service approach is responding to customer preference. That’s why we’re investing in digital services so our customers can bank with us anywhere, at any time.”

A separate submission from Indigenous Business Australia said First Nations people living in regional and remote areas were already facing difficulties in accessing financial services.

“Further regional bank closures will compound the already difficult situation that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people face in accessing finance and capital,” the group said.

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