Bankwest’s 129-year branch presence in Western Australia will come to an end by October as its owner, Commonwealth Bank, confirmed on Wednesday it would be closing all 60 of its branches in WA as part of a move to digital-only services over the next 6 months. 

While the company was keen to highlight the takeover of 15 of its regional branches by parent company Commonwealth Bank, 17 branches in other regional towns and all branches in Perth will be permanently closed, leaving many without bricks and mortar banking services. 

Once the transition is complete, branches in Bunbury, Busselton, Manjimup, Margaret River, Albany, Katanning, Esperance, Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Merredin, Moora, Narrogin, Northam, Geraldton, Broome, Karratha, Kununurra and Port Hedland will be shuttered. Among the metro branches to permanently close are Claremont, Joondalup, Kalamunda, Midland, Rockingham and St Georges Terrace. 

Bankwest spokesperson Scott Spittles said the move came amid a decline in the use of face-to-face banking services, stating that fewer than two per cent of customers visited a branch regularly and 97 per cent of transactions now occur digitally.

Bankwest said on average just 15 over-the-counter transactions occurred in regional WA every day.

The announcement has been met with anger by many customers who have threatened to take their business elsewhere in retaliation. If this is you, get in touch with us today for help to transition to a new bank.

Why is Bankwest going digital?

Angus Sullivan, CBA’s retail banking boss, said the change was necessary to better serve customers who “value a simpler, digital experience”, adding that 97 per cent of Bankwest transactions are now conducted by app or online banking.

“This trend will only continue in the years ahead,” Mr Sullivan said.

“Today’s announcement is an important step in addressing changing customer demand and meeting competitive pressures head on with a strong digital challenger brand that can meet the needs of more Australians.”

On the whole, it seems the decision is largely strategic as the big four’s grip on mortgages and deposits has been shaken up by digital-focused lenders such as Macquarie, as well as Bendigo & Adelaide Bank’s Up brand. Macquarie, in particular, has put pressure on the big four and lifted its market share sharply over the past three years.

The reasoning give by the CBA boss is that, with the savings from eliminating Bankwest’s branch network, it can offer lower prices to borrowers.

Mr Sullivan said customers wanting a “full-service banking offer” could still get these services at a CBA branch, though Bankwest was aiming for a “different pricing proposition”. “We are committed to providing a full-range of products and services to our customers across WA,” the bank executive said.

What support is Bankwest offering customers?

Mr Spittles said there were about 2,000 customers who only used face-to-face banking services. 

“We’ll have a bespoke solution for those customers,” he said.

“We are reaching out to them individually and bankers will contact them one to one with solutions.”

Mr Spittles said vulnerable customers — particularly the elderly and people from non-English-speaking backgrounds — would be provided with tailored support to transition to the Commonwealth Bank or access other available services.

Mr Spittles said in-person transactions could still take place at select Australia Post sites. 

He said cash would still be offered to customers.

“We’ll continue to do that through the CBA ATM network and still continue to do that through Australia Post as well.”

Bank@Post to substitute for branches

Bankwest’s partnership with Australia Post ensures customers can continue to access cash services through thousands of Bank@Post services in local communities across the nation, while CBA’s extensive ATM network remains fee-free.

However, the use of Bank@Post to justify regional branch closures has long been criticised given that some transactions can only be carried out by banks.

While Bankwest has pointed to services offered by Australia Post as an effective replacement for local branches, Australia’s Licensed Post Office Group said the businesses were not set up to work as banks.

Executive director Angela Cramp said the increase in business was welcome, but post offices were not being supported through the transition.

“The post office is the way that all these banks are cutting their costs to close down their branches,” she told ABC Radio Perth.

“We support that, except they are not paying the post office to do that work well and that’s a problem.”

Ms Cramp said more people were needing to access cash, including younger customers.

“I’ve been quite surprised at the increase in cash coming in for bill paying and buying and shopping and banking in the last 6-12 months,” she said.

“It’s disingenuous of the banks to say that everyone now prefers to do banking online because you cannot get money out of your home computer.

“Cash needs to stay, and we need access to it.”

What about people losing their jobs?

“Our branch colleagues have invaluable knowledge and experience, and they will all be offered opportunities to access the next generation of banking jobs so they can continue to support customers nationwide from in their own communities.”

Bankwest also said it would offer a new career opportunity to every branch colleague impacted by this change, so they can continue to serve customers nationwide.

Customers, Union furious at the move

Jason Hall, national assistant secretary of the Finance Sector Union, said it was “outrageous” Bankwest had made this decision.

“I think those people are disadvantaged, like the elderly or Indigenous communities or people with English as a second language, this is a real blow for them,” Mr Hall said.

“This really shows that Bankwest doesn’t really consider them to be a priority customer. And we really have issues with that part of the community being treated this way. “

He did not buy the bank’s pledge to provide “bespoke” solutions to 2,000 customers hit hardest.

“Those bespoke solutions will be to learn how to do online banking or move to CBA, and we don’t think that’s a solution that a lot of those people will be ready for,” he said.

Mr Hall argued Bankwest, as part of the CBA Group, had a social contract to provide services to the community.

Bankwest customer David Young described the decision to shut all the physical branches as “atrocious”.

“We can’t all deal with things digitally,” he said outside the closed Bankwest branch on St Georges Terrace in Perth’s CBD.

“I usually come into the branch today and I can’t.”

Will CBA be going digital too?

While CBA had entered a moratorium on branch closures until 2026 as part of a parliamentary inquiry into the impact on regional Australia, this did not include the Bankwest subsidiary. (A moratorium is the temporary suspension of an activity or law until future consideration warrants lifting the suspension.)

The bank will, however, retain the 15 branches converting to the CBA brand as long as the moratorium is in place.

Does this highlight how banks really feel about their customers?

We’ve already witnessed a great deal of back lash from our clients who have their home loan and other accounts with Bankwest, feeling as though they haven’t been considered in this decision. While it’s a grim reality, the big 4 banks in particularly are essentially big businesses, and will make strategic decisions on how to grow the biggest profits for their shareholders. If you think it’s time to reconsider your lender and what kind of values are important to you, we encourage you to research the smaller alternative lenders and get in touch with us if you’d like to know more. We have access to over 40 lenders across Australia, and we can help you to find a suitable option that feels most aligned with you.

If you’re ready for us to help you, you can apply online now, or let us get to work with an free interest rate check to see what your best option will be for your home loan.

All lending subject to status and lenders criteria. Terms & conditions apply. This document contains general information only. Your own personal circumstances have not been considered and you should seek independent financial advice prior to making any decision on a financial product.

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