ANZ closed flood-ravaged rural bank due to $1m rebuild
Despite closing three rural bank branches this week, ANZ executives deny the company has sped-up shut downs before tougher rules about closures in regional Australia come into force.
Senior employees faced the Senate inquiry into closures in country areas on Thursday morning, acknowledging at least three branches in rural Victoria and NSW had shut down in recent days.
Banks have six weeks before they will be expected to complete closure impact assessments outlining community consultation, as recommended by the separate 2021 Regional Banking Taskforce.
The inquiry chair, Senator Matt Canavan, asked if ANZ was rushing through closures before the June 23 deadline.
"That certainly wasn't the intent to do that," said Michael Wake, the general manager of the bank's NSW and ACT retail branch network.
Senator Canavan accused ANZ of treating regional people with "disgust" and paying lip service to the original taskforce.
"Senator, we will be complying with the outcomes of the Regional Banking Taskforce," Mr Wake told the inquiry, sitting in Ingham, Queensland.
The inquiry outlined ANZ's 56 regional closures since the start of 2021, including 21 in NSW, 19 in Victoria, eight in Queensland, four in Tasmania and two in both South Australia and Western Australia.
Mr Wake also acknowledged ANZ had "gone outside" industry protocol by closing a flood-damaged branch in Seymour, Victoria, without giving the required 24 weeks' notice.
"To redo that branch was well over a million dollars to refurbish it from the flood. We saw that as too large an expense," he said.
ANZ reported its half-year cash profits surged by 23 per cent to $3.8 billion earlier this month.
Tony Tapsall, ANZ's strategic solutions director, said the bank would not close Suncorp branches in the three years after its potential acquisition, which is being considered by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
The committee has previously heard bank closures leave rural communities fearing for the future of their towns, which rely on face-to-face services for farming operations and access to cash for events and volunteer organisations.
Banks say the closures reflect a shift towards digital banking and a decline in foot traffic.
Ramon Jayo, the mayor of Hinchinbrook Council, said there was little to no community consultation from Westpac, ANZ and Suncorp when they closed branches.
When Westpac reversed its decision to close the Ingham branch, Mr Jayo said he saw the news on Facebook.
"That's how information gets around out here," he said.
They mayor said the region had a lucrative sugarcane industry and an ageing population, both of which relied on local bank branches.
"There's a perception that if you don't have enough banks, there's no wealth, but that's not the truth," Mr Jayo said.
"Banks here did not close because of a lack of wealth or lack of business, they closed because they program people not to go in the door to get cash.
"You don't know how much that is hurting us."
The inquiry is due to report by December.