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CBA's $1b spend on branches 'unsustainable', CEO says

Commonwealth Bank's chief executive says it is committed to keeping regional branches open where possible, but customers are rapidly moving online.


CEO of Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) Matt Comyn speaks during an inquiry into rural bank closuress at Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday, September 20, 2023. Image AAP

The Commonwealth Bank spends $1 billion a year to keep branches open, an investment that may become unsustainable as more people move to digital services.


However, Chief Executive Matt Comyn has told a Senate inquiry into regional bank closures the company wants to have the highest market share of branches in country Australia.


"There's no question that regional Australia is valuable to us," Mr Comyn told the inquiry at Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday.


"Do we see value in supporting services? We absolutely do and we frankly support a broader customer base than others are prepared to."The Senate inquiry, which is examining the effects of more than 600 closures since 2017, has heard from farmers, small businesses and councils, who say face-to-face banking is an essential service in the regions.


They say banks should not abandon growing regional communities and their significant contribution to the economy across the agriculture, mining and tourism sectors.


Many witnesses have told the inquiry that local bank managers are crucial for successful farming operations, while access to cash helps vulnerable populations and keeps community organisations afloat.


While Commonwealth Bank was committed to continued cash transactions, the way customers used its services was changing rapidly, Mr Comyn said.


Five years ago, 43 per cent of point-of-sale transactions were cash, compared to 15 per cent now.


Its customers transact $18 billion online every week, an increase of 64 per cent over two years.


The bank spends $1 billion per year to keep its branch network open, $400 million distributing cash to its branches and millions supporting postal bank services.


"As time goes on, it becomes unsustainable to invest substantial resources keeping expensive services that fewer and fewer customers use." 


The Commonwealth Bank was the first to halt closures during the inquiry and has since paused regional shut downs until 2026.


Mr Comyn said bankers would undertake extensive consultation with communities in the hopes of keeping regional banks open after that date.


Westpac Chief Executive Peter King said while cash would continue to be part of the economy, its use was dropping dramatically.


The bank was responding by offering more digital services, in the same way the federal government has online platforms for Medicare, Centrelink and tax, he said.


"If I look at government services, banking services and most services in the country, they're all going to go digital, so we're going to help people get on and then telecommunications is critical as well." 


The inquiry will hear from the chief executives of the other major banks throughout the day, along with union representatives.


The committee will sit in Junee, in the NSW Riverina, on Thursday to hear from a community that successfully fought to stop the closure of its last bank.


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