Money ANZ Bank considered 'accelerated' branch closures
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A senior ANZ Bank executive prepared a proposal to speed up the pace of branch closures from 50 planned closures in 2017, citing analysis it made more sense to shut a branch than sell it, the royal commission has been told.
As the commission looks at financial issues affecting remote Indigenous areas, documents tabled on Wednesday included a “accelerated branch closures presentation” from April of last year, which was prepared "for CEO discussion," and marked "for decision."
Counsel assisting Mark Costello read from the document, prepared by the bank's managing director of retail distribution, Catriona Noble, for consideration by chief executive Shayne Elliott. It is not clear whether Mr Elliott approved Ms Noble's proposal.
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“Approval is sought to accelerate closures resulting in Australian branch network of [blank] branches by 30 September 2019,” Mr Costello said, reading from the document.
“Closure would accelerate from 50 in 2017 to [blank] in each of 2018 and 2019,” Mr Costello read.
ANZ's general manager in the Northern Territory, Tony Tapsall, said he had not been directly involved in the document and could not answer detailed questions about its contents.
ANZ now has about 640 branches, but all banks face calls from analysts to close branches as a way of cutting costs and relieving a squeeze on profit margins. However, the issue remains a sensitive one, especially for people in remote areas.
The document also said branches are "lower contributors" in regional and remote areas, and in some city areas where customers had embraced online banking.
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The commission also heard on Thursday that it took more than six months for ANZ to open a fee-free transaction account sought by a customer in a remote Northern Territory Aboriginal community.
A senior family support worker at Save the Children in Catherine, Thy Do, recounted her drawn-out and frustrating experience, after she tried to open an account without dishonour fees and overdrawn fees with ANZ for clients who were paying $200 a month in bank fees.
Ms Do said when they attempted to open an account in Katherine, the bank initially opened an "access advantage" account, which incurred fees, because the banker said it was not possible to open a fee-free account in the branch. The banker offered to waive the fees and then put the client into a pensioner account, which ANZ says has low fees.
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Ms Do described a series of subsequent calls to ANZ and visits to the branch, over several months, in which she was given contradictory information about what could be done to open the account.
There were also complications because at one point the client needed to send a text message to open the account, but on that day she did not have credit on her phone.
After complaining to the bank and contacting the corporate regulator, Ms Do said the bank had told her the client's bank card would be delivered this week.
“I think it’s been a very, long confusing frustrating process. It never crossed my mind that it would be this difficult to open a bank account,” Ms Do said.
Counsel for ANZ, Kate Williams, questioned if Ms Do's memory was "mistaken", while ANZ's Mr Tapsall said the banker had a different account of events to Ms Do.
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