The Commonwealth Bank of Australia has committed to keeping all its regional bank branches open at least until the end of 2026 – a three-and-a-half-year extension on its current promise.
Earlier this year, CBA and two other big banks vowed to pause regional branch closures for the rest of 2023 as a wave of branch closures outside major cities sparked criticism from affected communities. The closures also prompted a year-long Senate inquiry into regional branch closures, which will conclude in December.
CBA said the extension will be used to support customers who preferred banking in branches by continuing to provide them with face-to-face services, as it also highlighted ongoing growth in digital banking, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.
The banking giant said it was also considering converting more regional branches to “multi-channel” branches, which would allow them to maintain a strong physical presence across regional Australia, safeguard and upskill regional employment, and meet growing customer demand for phone and digital banking services across the country. These branches close at 1 pm, at which point the branch staff start work in contact centers.
“Through this time of change, we want to support customers in regional areas who prefer banking in a branch, and so we will maintain our existing face-to-face services in these communities,” said Angus Sullivan, CBA’s group executive for retail banking services.
“We look forward to working closely with regional communities over the next three years to refine how we better support and familiarise them with all the CBA banking services available.”
CBA, Australia’s largest branch network, had 807 outlets at the end of the 2022 financial year, nearly 40% of which were in regional Australia. Its Australian branch numbers shrank by more than 200 in the three years to June 2022.
Despite CBA’s moratorium on regional closures, banks said usage of branches in both cities and the country has fallen steeply, creating ongoing pressure to ultimately shut more outlets.
The Senate inquiry heard in March from the Australian Banking Association that over-the-counter transactions had tumbled by 36% in regional locations since 2019, prior to the pandemic. The same inquiry was told by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority that regional and remote branch numbers had dwindled by 29%, a net decline of 677 branches, in the five years to June 2022.
Like CBA, rivals ANZ and Westpac have both promised to pull the brakes on regional branch closures until the Senate inquiry concludes in December. NAB, on the other hand, refused to make the same promise, saying in February that it would continue its “branch reshaping process,” SMH reported.