With the Senate currently considering bank closures in regional Australia, ICAN has reflected on the lessons it has learned over many years from talking to people in regional and remote communities about the barriers they face in accessing basic banking services.
In 2005, ICAN participated in the National Indigenous Money Management Agenda, a project led by Reconciliation Australia and the Department of Families, Community Services, and Indigenous Affairs (FaCSIA) partnership. The project’s Indigenous Banking Reference Group had stakeholders from community organisations, the financial services industry and State and Australian Government agencies, whose input helped shape the final Banking for the Future report.
ICAN CEO, Aaron Davis, recalled, “As a consumer advocacy organisation servicing Queensland’s remote Indigenous communities, we provided a voice to remote community banking issues and service needs. Many successful cross-sector partnerships and outcomes came from the project that remains today. For ICAN, it was the beginning of our journey with the Commonwealth Bank in providing financial literacy education in the communities we serve and developing over fifty Indigenous financial counsellors nationally.”
“Around that time, the Commonwealth Bank also established the Indigenous Customer Assistance Line (ICAL), a call centre designed to support the banking needs of remote Indigenous communities,” said Mr Davis. “I believe ANZ, Westpac, and NAB also have developed Indigenous customer assistance lines since. We need to do more, as issues around access and the cost of banking remain for regional and remote Indigenous communities.”
ICAN Operations Manager, Jillian Williams, explained the impact of the lack of face-to-face financial services in regional and remote communities. “Banks, and the products and services they provide, are critical conduits for facilitating access to peoples’ essential needs and managing day to day life. Banks provide essential services, so when people face barriers to accessing their own money and engaging in their local economy, the social and economic impacts of this affects the whole community,” said Ms Williams.
The closure of branches and push by banks to digital platforms means communities that experience digital exclusion due to limited and unreliable mobile and internet coverage, also experience financial exclusion. This in turn stops progress on Closing the Gap measures.
“In the absence of branches, consumer advocates have been calling on banks to expand and appropriately resource mobile banking services to visit regional and remote communities regularly,” said Ms Williams.
In ICAN’s view, anything less than monthly visits would fail to achieve the goals of the service. It is unreasonable to expect a banking customer to wait for more than a month for the following non-cash banking transactions:
1) Replacement of key cards
2) Transfer of funds from one account to another – when waiting for a new key card
3) Activation of a key card
4) Setting up telephone banking passwords
5) Creating an Internet banking profile and ongoing support concerning accessing new digital products
6) Assistance with accessing mobile phone apps.
7) Creating savings accounts
8) Applications for lines of credit, such as credit cards, car or personal loans, and mortgages.
“I think the time has come where we need to tackle some of these big issues collectively, across sectors, in the same methodical way the National Indigenous Money Management Agenda did back in 2005,” said Mr Davis. “I encourage people across sectors to download the ‘Banking for the future’ report, take stock in its achievements, and be honest about what still needs to be done.”