Another one bites the dust

Another one: NAB's Morwell branch is set to close on October 26, 2023. Photograph Zaida Glibanovic



ANOTHER huge blow came for Morwell last week, when the National Bank of Australia (NAB) announced the closure of its Morwell branch.

The branch, on Princes Drive, will close on Thursday, October 26.

The closure of Morwell’s NAB branch will leave Morwell Central Business District (CBD) without any accessible banking facilities.

The shock decision comes after the Committee Inquiry into Bank Closures in Regional Australia was held in Sale in March.

Following a similar narrative to other recent bank closures in Morwell, NAB said the banking scene has changed as more customers opt to go online.

“More and more, our customers are choosing to do their banking online, over the phone, or by video conference. And, as they continue to bank differently, it’s important we continue to adapt with them,” the bank said.

“Because of these changes, we’ve made the difficult decision to close our NAB Morwell branch at 199 Princes Drive, Morwell, on Thursday, 26 October 2023. Of course, we’ll keep helping you bank in other ways and make sure this change is as smooth as possible.”

NAB Retail Customer Executive for Eastern Victoria, Jade Galliot said the decision was a challenging one.

“The decision to close a branch is never easy, but the number of customers coming into branches to do their banking is dropping, with more than 93 per cent of transactions across Australia taking place online,” she said.

“Ninety per cent of our Morwell customers who are registered for online banking are active users of the mobile app and online banking.”

NAB cited its Warragul branch upgrade as a reason for Morwell’s closure, alongside decreased foot traffic at 199 Princes Drive.

In addition, NAB stated that only 54 per cent of Morwell customers have visited the branch once in the last year, with 81 per cent of Morwell customers also using other locations. NAB recorded only six per cent of customers who rely on branch-only banking and no other methods.

“The Morwell team will be helping customers who need additional support with digital banking and also introducing them to the five Bank@Post services offered at Australia Post outlets across Morwell,” Ms Galliot said.

NAB’s renewed Bank@Post partnership with Australia Post provides the community with a face-to-face alternative at more than 3400 Australia Post outlets across the country, including five Australia Post outlets across Morwell.

Customers can conduct a range of fee-free banking services, including cash deposits up to $9999 per day, cheque deposits up to $999,999.99 per day, withdrawals up to $2000 per day, as well as change/coin floats for business customers. Under NAB’s 10-year agreement, personal and business customers can access this service.

NAB reassured that for business, small business and agribusiness customers, the relationship that they have with their existing bankers will remain the same. Customers in Morwell and surrounds will continue to be serviced by their agribusiness, business or small business banker, as they are today.

“There will be no job losses as part of this change – our branch team will be provided new opportunities across NAB, including the Traralgon and Moe branches,” Ms Galliot reassured.

“NAB has invested more than $21 million in its branch network across regional Victoria over the last three years, with branch refurbishments recently completed or in progress in locations such as Warragul, Sale, Wonthaggi, Ballarat and Mildura.”

“We’re a proud agribusiness bank, and for our agri customers across the Latrobe Valley, they’ll continue to be supported as they are today with their agri banker visiting them.”

The community of Morwell has not been so receptive to the news of the branch’s closure.

According to Advance Morwell vice-chair, Graeme Sennett, the Morwell community is devastated by this latest banking blow, with Advance Morwell calling for NAB to reconsider its decision.

“Over recent years, Morwell residents have slowly seen the closure of all their CBD bank branches, significantly impacting both our business community and those who rely on in-person banking services,” he said.

“Despite the banks’ claims that services are available online and that use of over-the-counter services is diminishing, their closure poses a significant threat to Morwell’s economic stability and wellbeing.”

According to Advance Morwell, the closure of the CBD banks has disproportionately affected those elderly and vulnerable in the Morwell community, who face real difficulties accessing banking services without a local physical branch.

“The impact on local businesses, who rely on these banks for day-to-day financial transactions, is significant. Morwell traders now incur additional costs, security risks and time wastage as they must travel to Traralgon or Moe to do their banking,” Mr Sennett added.

“While we are fortunate to still have a Commonwealth Bank branch at Mid Valley, it is difficult to access and requires traders to carry their cash through the shopping centre and car park; a real safety risk.”

Mr Sennett said that as big banks close branches and chase profits, they are ignoring their social and community obligations, and in their wake, leave towns suffering, with empty shops, job losses and future economic development undermined.

The Finance Sector Union (FSU) says that when a branch closes, it can significantly affect residents and businesses.

Not only are there feelings of anxiety and concerns for safety, but there are also costs associated with travelling further for in-person banking.

Furthermore, the FSU report that a loss of financial service can lead to a loss of economic opportunities for the community, resulting in job losses and decreased business for local retailers.

Latrobe City Council expressed their disappointment and concern over the Morwell NAB’s pending closure.

Latrobe City Mayor, Kellie O’Callaghan noted the importance of sharing the local experience when banks close.

“The closure of the Morwell NAB Bank branch creates a challenging situation for local businesses, making it more difficult for them to conduct daily transactions, manage finances and access essential banking services,” the Mayor said.

“While we acknowledge decisions are not made lightly by corporate banks and there is a drive towards online banking for many customers – access remains paramount.”

This decision comes after council’s advocacy of the importance of accessible banking services and input into the Committee Inquiry into Bank Closures in Regional Australia.

“Banking facilities have been available across Latrobe City for our community to access for many years, recent service changes have seen our community impacted, with Morwell residents and business to now face further inconvenience and limited options when it comes to their banking needs,” the Mayor said.

“Council is committed to engaging with government and banks to ensure that our communities remain empowered as we navigate this change and look for solutions.”

The nearest alternative NAB branches are now Traralgon and Moe.

Given reasons behind NAB’s decision to close Morwell mirrors that of ANZ, who closed their Moe branch earlier this year, the future of in-person banking and accessibility in smaller Latrobe Valley towns remains up in the air.