Is cashless the way forward?

Is cashless the way forward?

Its back to Beaconsfield with the closure of their bank for the second time in three years. 

In May of 2020 the Bank of Heritage Isle (BOHI) in Beaconsfield was closed to move forward with the industry. In 2020 Andrew Rasby Bank of Heritage Isle Chief Member Officer said, “Digitisation is a change we are seeing across the whole business, indeed the whole industry. BOHI’s branch network just isn’t resonating with the community in the way it used to. So, we have to make a change.” 

This left a huge whole in the West Tamar Valley, it being at the peak of COVID-19, causing immense stress on the locals with no online experience, to have to not only transfer banks, but travel 40 minutes to do their banking amid a pandemic.  

“To have made this decision in the middle of a pandemic and driving their elderly and most vulnerable customers out of their homes and into the public in order to wrap up their bank accounts is unconscionable. All week there have been queues of people gathering outside branches in Launceston and Beaconsfield with customers travelling to get there,” said Federal Member for Bass Bridget Archer in 2020. 

Fortunately, it didn’t take long for Bendigo Bank to swoop in and fill the gap in the community that the BOHI had left. This brought around ease and peace of mind to those in the community who were so disrupted by the closing of the branch several months prior. 

“The community demonstrated that they had a complete expectation that they would have great, face-to-face, old-fashioned service, and it’s here now so we encourage everyone to support the investment that’s been made by the hardware store, and the support of Bendigo Bank, and get behind the team that’s supporting the community.” said MP Janie Finlay in 2020. 

Fast forward two and a half years to the closure of the new Bendigo Bank agency.  

The news of the closure has been spreading rapidly throughout the Tamar Valley, causing stress and discomfort. The community, alongside MP Janie Finlay are working hard to keep the agency in Beaconsfield. A community meeting was held in the uniting church on Wednesday 19th of April, with council members, Bendigo Bank Representatives and the agency operator flying in from Flinders Island in a bid to urge Bendigo to reconsider the closure of their agencies in rural areas, such as Beaconsfield and Flinders Island. 

“We have had a commitment from the National Operations Manager that he will take back the information he learned yesterday in our meetings, he will directly provide feedback to the Managing Director of Bendigo Bank on behalf of our communities and within the next week, provide feedback to us if they can find a way forward for these agencies who are so trusted and supported by their communities, whether they can find a way for us to work together to stay open,” said Ms. Finlay. 

“There are very few banking services available in the Tamar Valley, and we know that more and more people are moving their accounts across to the Bendigo Bank Agency, with businesses and customers even coming all the way across from George Town.” 

Although hopeful, the community was not able to secure the Bendigo Agency to remain in Beaconsfield this time around.  

“Following a detailed review of transaction activity, evolving customer banking habits and the declining numbers of people using cash, we regret to advise that the Bendigo Bank Agency located at Beaconsfield Hardware, 4 Shaw St, Beaconsfield, will be closing on Monday, 26th June 2023.  Closing an agency is never a decision we make lightly, however, as more and more customers choose to do their banking online or over the phone, our Bank must respond and invest to support evolving customer expectations, preferences and changes in banking behaviour. We regret any inconvenience the cessation of this service may cause.” Said Rosie Hartney, Public Relations Assistant Manager. 

Community members spoke up about hearing this, many sharing concerns about the closure including cybersecurity and the cost of travel.  

“What’s the point of me going all the way down there now. That cost me $61.00, town is 50-52 kilometres. It’s 104 all up, it costs just over $60.00 that’s 60 bucks in running costs for my car, just to go to the bank.” Jonathan, Beaconsfield resident, banks with Bendigo. 

“It’s just really important that we do have a branch mainly for the elderly and people like me that don’t/can’t use technology.” Crystal, Beaconsfield resident, banks with Bendigo. 

“It is ridiculous. So many elderly people are living here in this area and towards Greens Beach and some of them or most of them are not driving.” Eva, Beaconsfield resident, “I don’t know who makes the decision, but it’s definitely out of touch.” 

But Bendigo isn’t the only bank that has been rumoured to close in the Tamar Valley. 

“Many of our community are ageing & banking online is not an option for them. In the past, rumours have been circulating that the Commonwealth Bank in Exeter may also be closing. Where does that leave the community?” Councilor Joy Allen, West Tamar Council said. 

The Commonwealth Bank Australia (CBA) have denied the rumours of an immediate closure, “Our Exeter branch is one of our multi-channel branches, which serves local customers in branch from 9:30am to 1pm and then shifts to assist our contact centres in the afternoon. For customers who prefer face-to-face support outside of these trading hours, Bank@Post remains available at the Exeter LPO, so both personal and business customers can make withdrawals, deposits and bill payments, including passbooks, during normal business hours.” Monica Schubert, Commonwealth Bank Media. 

“This operating model for our Exeter branch was implemented around 18 months ago and is a permanent, long-term solution designed to allow us to both meet the sustained demand for our phone and online banking services while continuing to maintain a strong presence in regional Australia.” 

The closure of the Bendigo Bank agency in Beaconsfield pulls back the curtain on banking branches all around Australia, with more than 30% closing since 2018. This number is amplified in more rural and local areas. With COVID-19 ushering a new cashless society, the big banks are ready to capitalise on this by closing their branches, promoting online banking even further. Up to 900 branches have closed around Australia since the beginning of the pandemic. 

Is this the dawn of a new cashless society? Will we have to either get with the times or get left behind? Is there anything that can be done to prevent the closure of branches around Australia? 

“The Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs is currently inquiring into bank closures in regional Australia, and I would expect that the outcomes of this inquiry will lead to better outcomes for our communities who are affected by closures that we are seeing across our region and across the country. I encourage people to continue to reach out to me to share their experiences as I continue my advocacy on these matters.” Mrs Archer Said 

Although CBA have denied the rumours of immediate closure, they have only confirmed their commitment while the senate inquiry is underway.  

“In February 2023, we publicly confirmed that following consideration of a request from the Senate Committee, CBA will not close any regional branches while the Senate Inquiry is underway in 2023.” Monica Schubert added.  

This leaves the future of the CBA branch in Exter and other regional areas a mystery and a place of concern for many as the closing of branches around Australia is on the rise. 

While banks do appear to be pulling out of rural areas and move into a predominantly online interface, they don’t want to be leaving the community high and dry. Both CBA and Bendigo have provided options for the community around their open hours and for when the Bendigo branch inevitably closes.  

“Our customers can continue to conduct over-the-counter banking at any of the more than 3,500 Australia Post outlets nationally using Bank@Post (fees may apply) and can also continue to transact as normal at any other Bendigo Bank branch or ATM, via internet banking, our mobile app or via phone banking on 1300 236 344.” Added Rosie Hartney, Public Relations Assistant Manager.   

Beaconsfield LPO is located at 108 Weld Street, Beaconsfield, which provides customers with an additional 15 hours a week to conduct over the counter transactions and is just a short 600 metre walk from the agency. The Bank has reached an agreement with Australia Post to support Concession Account Holders by waiving the fee to use this service.”  

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