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New Branch Closure Support Protocol – banking industry to better support customers of closing branches 

New Branch Closure Support Protocol – banking industry to better support customers of closing branches 

23 June 2023

The Australian Banking Association (ABA) has developed a new Branch Closure Support Protocol to improve transparency, ensure better communication, and provide improved customer support when banks close branches. 

The new Protocol governs the steps that banks must follow when closing branches, implementing the recommendations of the Federal Government Regional Banking Taskforce inquiry into branch closures that was initiated by the former Morrison Government in October 2021 and concluded by the Albanese Government in September 2022. 

“Banking is undergoing a digital revolution with 98.9 per cent of all customer interactions now occurring digitally and branch usage in a sharp decline for many years,” ABA CEO Anna Bligh said. 

“While overall customer preferences have shifted to digital, Australian banks know that some will need greater assistance during this transition. 

Ms Bligh noted that while the numbers of branches in Australia has decreased over the past 20 years, Australia has one of the highest rates of branch density in the OECD – with 24 bank branches per 100,000 adults.  

Ms Bligh said the new Protocol, to be in force from 1 July 2023, fully implements the Regional Banking Taskforce’s principal recommendations. 

    • A new Customer Care Standard that will require banks to:
      • offer education, training and assistance to customers of a closing branch to transition to other banking options; 
      • support customers – particularly older people, people with disability, First Nations customers, and those with limited English – who may require additional assistance to transition to other banking options (like digital); 
      • provide language support where appropriate such as interpreter services, AUSLAN, simple English guides or general information in languages other than English; and 
      • support customers who retain a preference for face-to-face banking services to transition to Bank@Post (for customers of participating banks).   
    • Banks will now have customer support obligations when they close a branch and the distance to their next branch is 10km away – halving the current threshold of 20km. 
    • Customer support obligations will no longer be limited to regional branch closures – in recognition that distance not geography is the main driver of inconvenience when a bank branch closes. 
    • Preparation and publication of Branch Closure Impact Assessments – an important transparency measure to help customers and the community understand the reasons for the closure decision. 
    • Notification requirements – not just to customers – but also key local stakeholders such as MPs, local government and other community representatives including First Nations groups. 

    “The new Protocol will lead to improved customer outcomes when banks close branches, in line with the roadmap provided in the Government’s Regional Banking Taskforce,” Ms Bligh said. 

    ABA response to the Regional Banking Taskforce’s seven recommendations:  

    #  Recommendation  Industry response  
    1.  Review and strengthen the ABA’s Branch Closure Protocol   The ABA should review and strengthen its Branch Closure Protocol and introduce an ABA Customer Care Standard by mid-2023, to improve communication and support when regional branches close or their hours are being permanently and materially reduced.  Implemented in-full.  The ABA and member banks have worked to uplift the Protocol in line with the Taskforce roadmap.  The new Branch Closure Support Protocol will come into operation on 1 July 2023. It includes improved customer support, better communications and transparency measures when applicable bank branches are closed. This includes a new Customer Care Standard.  
    2.  Implement branch closure impact assessments  Banks should establish a process for conducting and publishing regional branch closure impact assessments by mid-2023. Assessments should provide clear reasons for the closure and the engagement that will occur with customers, local government and other stakeholders following the announcement of the closure.  Implemented in-full.  Branch Closure Impact Assessments will be a requirement of the new Branch Closure Support Protocol.  
    3.  Promote and support Bank@Post services   
      Australia Post and participating banks should collaborate to promote Bank@Post services more widely and help their customers utilise the banking services available to them.   Agreed.  The ABA, participating banks and Australia Post have been working to better promote the availability of Bank@Post services particularly in regional and remote areas. 
    This should include working together to formalise and expand programs to support transition to Bank@Post when branches close  Implemented in-full.  Transition support for customers of banks who participate in Bank@Post has been included in the new Customer Care Standard in the Branch Closure Support Protocol.  
    4.  Maintain access to cash  
    Australia Post should consider how the cash float and deposit needs of small businesses and community group customers can be met.  Supported.   
    Australia Post and Bank@Post partners should work towards standardising deposit and withdrawal limits to enable easier promotion to customers and communities.  Agreed.  Participating banks agree on the importance of working towards standardising Bank@Post service offerings including deposit and withdrawal limits. This work is subject to discussions with Australia Post and banks’ Financial Crime Compliance processes.   
    The major banks should commit to continue to provide (and expand where possible given competition restrictions) access to fee-free ATMs in remote Indigenous areas.  Agreed.  Australian banks currently fund 85 fee-free ATMs in remote First Nations communities and are currently exploring the feasibility of expanding this initiative. Any expansion of the scheme will require detailed discussion and agreement of all stakeholders, including current non-bank ATM deployers.  
    5.  Improve support for regional consumers experiencing vulnerability  Banks should provide additional support for those experiencing vulnerability, including targeting transitional support when a branch closes and helping customers onto fee-free banking accounts. This includes engaging with First Nation communities on their banking needs in regional Australia, promoting services and reviewing the effectiveness of dedicated resources.  Implemented in-full.  The Customer Care Standard in the Branch Closure Support Protocol includes new support for customers of closing branches who expect that they may experience barriers to accessing banking services, post-closure.  This includes a focus on: Older customers; Customers with a disability; First Nations customers; and Customers with limited English.  
    6.  Continue to support and improve digital connectivity and literacy in regional areas  
    The Australian Government to invest in telecommunication services through its Better Connectivity for Rural and Regional Australia Plan, which will provide significant improvement in regional connectivity. The Government to encourage co-investment by industry and States and Territories to maximise outcomes.   Supported.   
    Banks should continue to provide digital literacy support for people experiencing vulnerability and coordinate with the Government on digital education programs, such as the Government’s ‘Be Connected’ program for improving digital literacy for older Australians.  
    7.  Review the APRA Points of Presence collection  APRA to commence in 2022 a review of its ADI Points of Presence collection to better capture indicators on how banking services are accessed, with public consultation in early 2023.  Supported.  The ABA supports APRA’s review of the Points of Presence collection and is actively contributing to the current consultation.   

    To view the current Branch Closure Support Protocol

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