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Investigation reveals Westpac’s serious breaches of banking code of practice in closing Tennant branch

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After a thorough investigation, the Banking Code Compliance Committee (BCCC) has found that Westpac breached its obligations under the Banking Code of Practice over its handling of its Tennant Creek branch closure in September 2022.

The BCCC has determined that Westpac failed to comply with the ABA Branch Closure Protocol and did not provide adequate support to affected customers in the remote Tennant Creek community during the transition period.

The BCCC’s investigation, labeled CX16004, concluded on 17 June.

As a result of the serious and systemic breaches, Westpac has been sanctioned by the BCCC.

The committee has publicised details of Westpac’s non-compliance on its website as well as in its Annual Report.

The investigation stemmed from concerns raised about the lack of support provided by Westpac to customers following the abrupt closure of the Tennant Creek branch without prior notice.

The BCCC assessed Westpac’s compliance with paragraph 14, which requires adherence to the ABA Branch Closure Protocol, and paragraph 36, which mandates assistance to customers residing in remote communities.

Westpac’s response to the investigation outlined various measures taken to support customers during the transition.

These measures included disseminating information about alternative banking services through posters and various communication channels, engaging with CatholicCare NT to address concerns and provide support, liaising with the remaining major bank in Tennant Creek to return customer cards taken by its ATM, deploying a remote service team to provide on-the-ground assistance, and securing partnerships to facilitate cardless cash and ATM services.

However, despite these efforts, the BCCC deemed Westpac’s support to be inadequate, slow, and poorly tailored to meet the specific needs of the Tennant Creek community.

The delays in providing detailed information to customers and the insufficient on-the-ground support led to significant challenges for customers, some of whom were at risk of digital and financial exclusion.

CatholicCare NT, a local community organisation, reported a surge in demand for their services due to the impacts of Westpac’s branch closure.

The breaches were deemed serious and systemic due to the high risk of harm posed to customers, the widespread nature of the breaches impacting all branch customers, the prolonged failure to adequately support customers and address community concerns, and the resulting detriment experienced by customers and the affected community.

The BCCC emphasised the importance of banks carefully considering the impact of branch closures, timely and effective communication with affected customers, active engagement with customers and the community, and ongoing efforts to address concerns and provide adequate support during transitions.

Westpac’s breach of code obligations serves as a public warning and a reminder of the protections customers are entitled to under the Code.

The full details of the investigation, including Westpac’s response, findings, and the BCCC’s reasoning for the sanction, can be accessed in the BCCC’s report. 

Tennant & District Times 28 June 2024

This article appeared in Tennant & District Times, 28 June 2024  

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