Is this the death of the regional bank? Country communities reeling from bank branch closures

It is 9am at the local newsagency in the quiet northern Victorian town of Mooroopna, and the air is buzzing with the news the local National Australia Bank branch, just a few doors down, is set to close its doors on January 20.

Key points:A growing number of regional bank branches are closing due to downturns in foot trafficThe federal government has established a regional banking taskforce to address thisThe taskforce will assess the impacts of branch closures on regional communities, and generate solutions

NAB says it is because an increasing number of people are banking digitally.

More than 93 per cent of its customer interactions now take place via phone, video or online.

But for locals who rely on the local branch, it is gutting.

"They're basically saying, 'Look, we're done, we're moving on, and you'll just have to adjust,'" Jones' Newsagency owner Andrew Jones said.

"But some locals aren't going to be able to adjust."

Regional banking task force searches for solutions

Mooroopna is just one of many regional Australian communities reeling from yet another bank branch closure.

Data from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) data shows in June 2017. There were almost 2,500 bank branches outside Australia's major cities.

By June this year, that number had slumped by almost 30 per cent to 1896, with an average of 100 branches closing per year.

It is a worrying trend for regional residents and businesses — and there are concerns it could accelerate in the wake of COVID-19.

The federal government has just established a regional banking task force to assess the impact branch closures are having on regional communities.

"We know that banks like it when people start banking online," co-chair Senator Perin Davey said.

"But the ramifications, particularly for small regional communities, are quite significant."

Senator Perin Davey in senate. June 23, 2021
Senator Perin Davey says the task force will release an issues paper for public consultation before the end of the year.(ABC News: Matt Roberts)

Bank branch closures impact town liveability

Access to bank branches is vital, particularly for residents unable to use online services.

The task force says bank branch closures can also impact the liveability of towns.

In addition to assessing impacts, the task force aims to workshop possible solutions.

“I'm not having a go at the banks, there is a commercial reality here,” Senator Davey said.

"But I have spoken to banks and others about the concept of a shared centre, a bit like a government service centre, where they're all sharing the costs, but there is a level of service for people."

The task force will hold its first meeting in early November and will release an issues paper for public consultation before the end of the year.

Significant impacts on residents, businesses

A man stands in front of newspapers
Mooroopna newsagency owner Andrew Jones is concerned the local NAB branch will close.(ABC Goulburn Murray: Charmayne Allison)

A NAB customer for almost 40 years, Mr Jones, received a letter from the bank last week, announcing its Mooroopna branch would close.

A NAB spokesperson said that more than 50 per cent of Mooroopna customers only visited the branch once in the past year.

Residents were encouraged to engage with the bank's digital platform instead.

Peter's considering switching banks after 60 yearsTwo men sit at a table, with a Commonwealth Bank tin money box in the foreground.

Hundreds of bank branches have been slated for closure since last January. The industry says it's no longer a sign of a town in decline, but locals are still worried.

Read more

As a business owner, it's going to have huge impacts on people like Mr Jones — he uses the branch up to five times a week.

And travelling to the next closest branch in Shepparton is an added burden.

"But I'll survive," he said.

Mr Jones is more worried about Mooroopna's older residents.

"Sure, younger people today take up the digital options," he said.

"But there is still an ageing population here and they don't have those options.

"What happens to them?"

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Posted 1 Nov 20211 Nov 2021Mon 1 Nov 2021 at 1:04am, updated 1 Nov 20211 Nov 2021Mon 1 Nov 2021 at 1:56amShareCopy linkFacebookTwitterArticle share optionsShare this onFacebookTwitterLinkedInSend this byEmailMessengerCopy linkWhatsApp

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