Weston Creek and Molonglo residents are baffled, confused and fuming after the Commonwealth Bank (CBA) notified customers that it will close its Weston branch at Cooleman Court from 13 March.
Local MLA Chris Steel has launched a petition on change.org and in hard copy, that has so far attracted over 700 signatures, calling on the bank to keep the branch open in the growing area.
Many of the petitioners are loyal Commonwealth customers, including business owners, who say they cannot understand why the bank would close the branch at such a busy centre such as Cooleman Court.
Mr Steel has called on the Commonwealth to reverse its decision, saying the closure would leave banking services threadbare in the area after the departure of other banks. He will meet with the bank’s regional manager to discuss the announcement next week.
Weston Creek Community Council president Tom Anderson has also written to the bank, accusing it of acting in contradiction to its mission purpose and “putting the boot into our community”.
“Our community is deeply shocked, angry, frustrated and saddened by this action. Here is the bank, classed as ‘The People’s Bank’, just closing up shop with no thought for the community,” he wrote.
The National Australia Bank recently left Cooleman Court, and if the CBA leaves, St George will be the only major bank left in the area, apart from the limited services at the Teacher’s Mutual Bank. CBA claims Australia Post will provide basic banking services.
“They’ve closed the Kambah branch, the Mawson branch and now the Commonwealth Bank is shutting the door on Weston Creek and the current and future residents of Molonglo,” Mr Steel said.
“The Australia Post branch will not be able to offer the same level of service as its current branch to customers wanting to make complex banking transactions like loans, including local businesses.”
Mr Steel said Weston Creek had the oldest population in Canberra with a median age of 41, according to the ABS, and this compounded the issues faced by older Canberrans, making it difficult for many people to access the bank.
He appealed to the CEO of the Commonwealth Bank, Matt Comyn, to reconsider the decision based on population growth and social equity grounds.
“This decision seems not to have considered the future growth of the area with up to 45,000 people living in Molonglo in the next 15 years who will need banking services including new home loans,” Mr Steel said.
“The bank seems not to have considered the commercial reality of being in one of the fastest-growing regions in Australia.
“We’re also appealing to the bank to consider the needs of older people living in the area with mobility issues who attend the bank in person.”
Mr Steel said there was still time for the Commonwealth Bank to reconsider its position, put people first, and benefit from the growth of the region.
“If the Commonwealth Bank abandons Weston Creek and Molonglo I think we will see a lot of people and business closing their account with the Commonwealth Bank,” he said.
Mark Ryan from Fabricare dry cleaners next door said businesses in the centre would feel the loss of the branch, and suggested a rent increase from the landlord, Mirvac, may be behind the closure.
Pensioner Joan from Kambah is really disappointed at the closure, which means she will have to go to Woden or Tuggeranong as Australia Post does not cover all the transactions she needs to make.
“It’s a shame. When you walk in there it’s always busy,” she said. “I don’t know what’s happening to this country.”
Executive director of People with Disabilities ACT Rachel Sirr said the 65,000 people in Canberra she represents needed extra support and not all customers in Weston Creek or Molonglo would find it easy to make the extra trip by car or bus to the nearest branch in Woden.
“The community needs it. It’s not acceptable that they’re shutting it down to cut costs,” she said.
Petitioner Tara Lamshed says that Cooleman Court is a very busy centre and the only one many older people in the area can get to do their banking.
“You have a responsibility to provide face-to-face banking services to this community. Just for once, why not do the right thing and keep this branch open?” she says.
Joe Teixeira says he and his wife have a business at Cooleman Court and bank with the Commonwealth. “It doesn’t make sense, they are always busy and closing the bank in a growing area is madness,” he says.
Amita Monterola’s 70-year-old mother uses the branch regularly. “She used to use internet banking and was able to drive or catch a bus but a mental health and eye condition means that the Weston branch is now essential for her banking,” she says.
CBA Regional General Manager Sara Sutton said the bank had reviewed the branch’s operations and customers were increasingly choosing other banking channels such as mobile, online and phone banking services.
“We understand some customers may be concerned, so we want to assure them that during the six-week transition period, our branch staff are on hand to help familiarise them with all the existing banking options available,” she said.
“Closing a branch is never an easy decision. We only do so after careful consideration of customer demand and the availability of alternative services.”
She said CBA had 13 branches operating in the Canberra metro area including those at Woden, Tuggeranong, Belconnen Mall and London Circuit.
Earlier this month, the CBA announced a half-year profit of $4.47 billion.