The closure of bank branches, and potentially Australia Post, in favour of digitisation will leave many areas and the older people who reside there without services. For older people with limited mobility or difficulty with digital access, full-service bank branches are vital to retain independence and good health.
Ageing in Australia can be challenging, particularly for older people living in regional, rural, and remote Australia. Reaching more distant bank branches becomes problematic as many older people are less mobile or are required to relinquish their driver’s license. This means they depend more heavily on public transport (which may or may not exist), or on others for transport. The nearest branch which may only be ‘just fifteen minutes’ drive away’ but for those who can’t drive there it may take considerably longer or not be possible at all.
The focus of guidance on branch closures should focus on the driving distance and local transport accessibility to an alternative bank and not specifically to whether they are located in rural and regional areas.
Banks are required to operate under the Banking Code of Practice (particularly Chapter 13) as members of the Australian Banking Association. This commits them to the provision of inclusive banking services, with older people highlighted as a target group for whom they will remain accessible. We need to ensure that strategies that maintain inclusive banking services are developed and implemented.
While Bank@Post is a useful facility, it is largely a transactional facility. It is limited to the deposit and withdrawal of cash and cheques, or monitoring account balances but broader important transactions, such as opening and losing accounts or applying for credit cards) are not available. Even those limited services provided are not offered at every post office, licensed post office, or community postal agent. And it should be noted that Australia Post is currently reviewing its services and operations, which could place even these limited services under threat.
Access to cash is an essential requirement for older people, particularly those who do not or cannot use cards for their services. To make access to cash conditional on having a card and being able to use complex ATMs is not delivering on the promise of inclusive banking.