‘Worst performer’: ASX bank shuts 146 branches since COVID

Finance union says since the government supported the banks during the pandemic, they have a social obligation to keep tellers open.

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ASX bank shares A sign stuck to a bank window says 'branch closed', indicating share price pressure on ASX bank shares

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Australia and New Zealand Banking GrpLtd (ASX: ANZ) is reportedly shutting 15 more branches, taking the closure count to a whopping 146 in just over a year.

According to the Finance Sector Union (FSU), the big bank will permanently close 9 branches in NSW, 2 in Victoria, and 4 in Western Australia over June, September and October.

“ANZ takes the cake as the worst performer when it comes to deserting communities around Australia,” said FSU national secretary Julia Angrisano.

“This is a bank which lives up to the banking Royal Commission’s description of banking as being driven by greed and short-term gain.”

Angrisano added that during the COVID-19 downturn, the federal government supported the big banks to protect the national economy.

“So in our view, banks have an obligation to continue to provide a service to the community,” she said.

“But ANZ doesn’t understand that basic principle. ANZ is obsessed with putting profits before people.”

ANZ retail managing director Katherine Bray told The Motley Fool that customers continued to shift from physical branches to online and telephone banking.

“This has been one of the biggest changes across the industry and the broader economy in recent years as people go online for everyday things such as grocery shopping, watching a film or doing their tax return,” she said.

“Last year alone, 70% of our customers preferred digital banking options and many of our few remaining passbook-only customers have been choosing to use debit cards for the first time.”

Only 12% of customers attended branches last year, according to Bray, meaning ANZ was completing just one transaction per customer per month in person.

The ANZ share price was up 0.59% trading at $28.99 near the close of trade on Monday afternoon. It was almost half that a year ago, trading at $16.15.

Thousands impacted by latest round of closures

Angrisano claimed the latest 15 closures, which are all in regional and rural areas, would impact “thousands of customers” who would now have to travel long distances for alternatives.

“How long can Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg ignore the damage being done to regional Australia by the big four banks, which simply don’t care about the people and businesses they are deserting?”

The FSU also claims 54 ANZ staff would be laid off. 

They will miss out on the bank’s COVID-enhanced redundancy package, which guaranteed a minimum 9 months of redundancy pay, as that program ended on 1 April.

“That was a program which recognised that bank workers could face difficulty securing a new job because of COVID. In our view, nothing has changed and with the vaccination program still to be rolled out [while] the pandemic continues to affect the numbers of jobs on offer,” said Angrisano.

“If you live and work in a regional town, your opportunities for redeployment are virtually nil.”

ANZ would try to retain as many staff as possible, according to Bray.

“Of our employees that were working in a branch that closed last year, we were able to find new roles or redeployment opportunities for nearly all of them that wanted to stay with ANZ, including at remote locations,” she said.

“For all employees who leave, we provide access to unlimited career coaching and outplacement support as well as access to our career training fund. Where people face financial hardship after leaving ANZ, we will provide access to our Past Employee Care Fund to support them.”

Shift to online banking

When explaining branch closures, ANZ and other banks always claim its customers now prefer to do their banking online.

Angrisano disagreed, claiming it’s the banks that are driving the push to online, rather than the other way round.

“We know the community is not ready for managing their finances online because one third of bank customers either don’t have a computer, do not have sufficient skills or are not interested in taking up online banking,” she said.

“Bank staff have been pressured by the use of ‘targets’ to move customers online. And in each of the banks, limits have been imposed on the number of over-the-counter transactions.”

Bray said ANZ has been proactively training customers to assist them with branch-free banking.

“Our dedicated customer team has proactively called thousands of elderly and vulnerable customers help them navigate the ANZ App and assist them with other options – including using other major bank and Armaguard ATMs for free to withdraw cash.”

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Motley Fool contributor Tony Yoo has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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