Bank emails non-existent ‘Mr Bean’ about closing SA town’s branch

When a bank prepared to shut its doors in the South Australian coastal town of Kingston SE, it wrote an email to the council addressed to Mr Bean.

Feb 21, 2024, updated Feb 22, 2024
A regional SA council says Bank SA sent an email about closing the town's branch to a non-existent staffer called Mr Bean. Photo supplied.

A regional SA council says Bank SA sent an email about closing the town's branch to a non-existent staffer called Mr Bean. Photo supplied.

But there was no Mr Bean to be found at the council chambers, which sit right next to the BankSA branch.

“We certainly have no Mr Bean working here,” Kingston District Council’s then chief executive Nat Traeger wrote to the parliamentary inquiry examining bank closures in rural Australia last year, and InDaily reported in its InSider column in May.

“The fact that they couldn’t even get the salutation to such an important item of correspondence correct speaks volumes about the bank closure process.”

The way banks notify towns about impending closures has been a sticking point at the long-running inquiry, with evidence of no direct consultation and notices sent to generic council emails.

During a council-run workshop on the closure process, Kingston residents said they felt “undervalued”, “dismissed” and “bloody angry, powerless, and voiceless in the decision”.

The Senate committee will sit in Kingston on Wednesday as it continues to hear evidence about how the rapid closure of banks has affected communities and local economies.

Nearly 800 country branches have shut across the nation since June 2017, according to data from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority.

The major banks have told the Senate committee the rapid take-up of online banking, along with a decline in cash transactions and foot traffic, mean many branches are no longer viable.

The South Australian hearing will be told how closures have forced rural residents to travel hundreds of kilometres to manage their finances, squeezed small businesses and further marginalised vulnerable people.

BankSA, part of the Westpac group, paused the closure of its Kingston branch, but the council’s new chief executive Ian Hart said the farming and tourist region needs certainty.

“I can’t believe that a community like Kingston is losing them that much money they feel they can’t support it,” Hart told AAP.

“What is the social contract between the bank and the community they’re serving?”

The Murray River town of Mannum lost its last bank, a BankSA branch, and an ATM just as floods hit in December 2022.

Resident Cathy Clemow began the grassroots campaign Bank 4 Mannum, surveying the community about their experiences of daily life without a branch.

Business owners said they had to close early to deposit their cash at the closest bank 35km away, while those who could use online banking were often hampered by poor connectivity.

“BankSA deserted Mannum when it was struggling the most,” Clemow wrote in her submission.

Several submissions said elderly and vulnerable people were disadvantaged after a bank closed because they weren’t capable of using digital services or couldn’t afford internet access.

A study led by RMIT University, which is due to be presented to the inquiry, found regional bank closures removed face-to-face services in areas where there was the highest need.

The inquiry is due to report back to parliament in May.

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