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Shrinking banking services a big problem for the bush: Inquiry says a public bank could help

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Coonamble Times

08 June 2024, 9:40 PM

Shrinking banking services a big problem for the bush: Inquiry says a public bank could helpCoonamble’s current banking options include the National Australia Bank, Commonwealth Bank and the Post office but the latest federal inquiry shows that this doesn’t mean the town has access to the range of banking services we need.

A senate committee’s final report on the impact of regional bank branch closures released on Friday 24 May took a hard look at private banks. 

The results of the 15-month inquiry found that citizens in regional and rural Australia will become increasingly disadvantaged as more banks close. 

“Bank branch closure are devastating to many regional and remote communities,” the report states.

The first of its recommendations was to recognise banking as an essential service across the nation.

They also backed measures to sustain face-to-face banking in regional areas.

The Inquiry received more than 600 submissions and held 13 public hearings. 

The committee made several recommendations in their report, including adopting a policy that recognises financial services as essential and developing a Banking Code of Conduct that requires banks to conduct meaningful consultations before closing a regional branch.

They also recommended that government investigate the feasibility of creating a publicly-owned bank. 

President of the Coonamble Chamber of Commerce (CCoC) Lucy Moss said that accessibility is the biggest banking issue in Coonamble.

She said businesses in Coonamble are severely impacted by the lack of access to banks. 

Coonamble's Commonwealth Bank branch is on limited opening hours. IMAGE: Coonamble Times

“It just makes simple tasks more difficult. From accessing floats for everyday use to cashing business proceeds and cheques.”

“If the Commonwealth Bank closes down and takes the ATM with them, there will be dire straits.”

Local business owners say the current access to banking institutions does not meet their needs. Both the National Australia Bank branch and the Commonwealth Bank, have strictly limited opening hours and the doors are sometimes closed without notice.

“We don’t use the bank,” said Manager of Cant Bros Home Hardware Steven Butler. “We’ve used the post office for some time because they’re guaranteed to be open. 

“The post office can do all bank transactions and that’s the direction I think it’s going to go.

“With the bank having staffing issues we don’t know when they’re going to be open.”

Mr Butler said that the two different banking systems that operate the post office and the bank make it easier to just stick with one, in this case the post office which is open longer. 

He said he doesn’t think a public bank would change much about the banking situation. 

“We’re becoming a cashless society. People rarely go to the bank counter anymore.”

However not all businesses agree.

Limited opening hours and unexpected closures means some business owners are not able to get their banking done.

“You’re always rushing to get it done to try and catch the bank before it closes at lunchtime,” Manager of the Coonamble Bowling Club Natalie Thurston said. 

“We have to carry a lot more cash for change than we used to because we just don’t know whether the bank is going to be open or not, or whether you’re going to be able to get change.”

Even an adjustment of the opening hours to 11 am to at least 3 pm would help businesses that stay open later Mrs Thurston said. 

“We’re not ready first thing in the morning. You have to come in and do your banking from the day before. You have other stuff going on too. You’re not usually ready when the bank closes at 12:30 p.m. or 1 p.m.”

Mrs Thurston said that two weeks ago the club ran out of 20-cent pieces. 

Luckily, she was in Dubbo at the time and had the opportunity to visit the bank there. 

Financial services offered at post offices do not cover the club’s needs, according to Mrs Thurston. “They’re limited to banking certain amounts and we sometimes exceed that.” 

There are also transactions and services not provided at post offices.

These include basic operations such as re-setting PINs, working out how cards have been set up, and checking for potential suspect transactions.

The Inquiry also says that access to cash is a significant issue.

“While the use of cash is declining across the Australian economy, cash and face‑to-face banking services remain important for many residents, organisations and businesses in regional communities,” the inquiry report stated.

“The security and flexibility of cash is of particular benefit in remote areas and during times of crisis.

“There are still consumers considered ‘high-cash users’ who use cash for more than 80 per cent of transactions. Most of these users are in regional areas. 

“RBA data suggests that around one-quarter of consumers would face major inconvenience or genuine hardship if they could no longer access or use cash.”

The Inquiry’s report pointed to issues surrounding the distribution of cash in regional areas, which relies on banks making decision and the capacity of services such as Armaguard, which has been pruning services to regional areas in a bid to remain financially viable.

Lack of access to deposit points, also means an increased security risks for business owners. 

“People are facing risks associated with keeping cash on hand for longer and banking in larger amounts. “This presents an increased security risks and attracts potential thieves,” the report stated. 

As a secretary to the Rodeo Committee, treasurer to the Football Club, and chairman to the Bowling Club, Mr Butler needs regular floats to keep the ventures going. 

He says he has to order floats a month in advance to make sure they are here in time for an event. 

Banks play a vital role in sustaining business and thereby the socioeconomic viability of towns. 

The report acknowledged that “the prospect of attracting new investors diminishes if there are fewer banking services in town.” 

The Albanese Government will now respond.