In a submission to the Regional Banking Taskforce, the Ombudsman said bank branch closures are disruptive to small and family businesses and that can have a ripple effect on the wider community.
“Small businesses rely on banking services to operate in the modern economy and it is essential that those in rural and regional areas have access to the full range of banking facilities,” Mr Billson said.
“Branch closures increase small business administrative costs, the level of risk for business owners, and have a community-wide economic impact caused by business patronage moving away, along with reduced community amenity, particularly if it is the last remaining bank in town.
“For some small businesses, the loss of a local bank branch may even cause them to look for services outside the regulated financial system. That is a bad outcome and there is more that can be done to support small businesses when a bank branch closes.”
The Ombudsman is eager to work with the Australian Banking Association (ABA) to amend the code of practice to ensure customers affected by a branch closure can move to any other bank with no cost penalties.
Mr Billson said his office has asked the taskforce to consider expanding programs such as the Regional Tech Hub to help rural and regional small businesses secure safe banking services.
He said that particularly in areas where there was no local bank branch, NBN connectivity was critical.
“My office has long argued that access to banking and vital communications services are essential and a greater focus is needed to set and adhere to deliverable service standards,” he said.
“Where these standards are not met, impacting a small or family business, some consequences and remediation steps should apply.”
Mr Billson said Australian small and family businesses had faced many difficult challenges over the past two years: “The pandemic has exacerbated the impact of bushfires, floods, and drought. These businesses need support as they work to get back on their feet, including access to essential banking services.”