Bank branches decline 13 per cent

Full-service bank branches fell by 13 per cent to 6,140 last year, according to the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority.

For most Australians, the maximum distance to get to a face-to-face facility is only 20 kilometres, claims the Australian Bankers' Association after analysing data from the Authority.

The ABA says when all bank, credit union and building society outlets are included, the APRA data show that face-to-face banking is far healthier than critics claim. APRA's statistics indicate that there were 4,712 bank branches as at June 2001, 1,100 credit union branches and 328 building society outlets. The data came out of last year's parliamentary report on regional and rural banking, “Money Too Far Away”?

The Australian Bankers' Association took the APRA data further and created a national “access and density map”, showing that there are few locations comprising more than 500 people that are more than a comfortable 20 kilometres from a branch or outlet.

APRA will now ask all credit unions and building societies, in addition to banks, for detailed information on their branches and service channels, saying it's a response to calls for better information about banking services access, especially in rural areas. But it remains to be seen if this information simply fuels the debate about whether banks have abandoned face-to-face service, rather than resolves it.