Banks lap up $5.5bn profit

The Big Four banks have raked in $5.5 billion profits over the past six months, while during this time another 25 branches disappeared and their workforce diminished by an average of 13 jobs a day. The National Australia Bank recorded the largest profit with $2.256 billion, and is planning to cut dozens more branches and 1,500 jobs across the country. The Commmonwealth reported $1.192 billion profit, Westpac $1.018 billion and the ANZ $1.05 billion. Together, they are on track to deliver $11 billion profit for the year.

Consumer groups and unions claim that the results have come at the cost of higher fees and savage branch cuts, with the Finance Sector Union's Tony Beck labelling the banks “the kings of greed”. Heightened calls have been made for social responsibility laws for banks. The FSU is urging State governments and councils to back banks that show a commitment to local communities, and is also pushing for tougher consumer laws to force banks to be more open about fees and the way that prices are set.

Westpac was the biggest culprit when it came to cutting jobs, with 1,830 being lost. But Westpac spokesman David Lording said that much of this was due to the outsourcing of IT and mortgage processing. He also said that its total branch numbers were “stable” over the past six months. The Commonwealth Bank cut 21 branches and will soon cut four more. The ANZ claimed to have bucked the trend, adding 236 full-time jobs and opening six branches.

Mr Beck stated that the banks were trying to bluff the public with distorted figures: traditional branches were often replaced with downgraded services offering shorter hours and fewer staff. Attempts to create a softer image do not make up for the 2,000 branches and 55,000 jobs lost over the past decade, he said.

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