National Australia Bank has denied reports people can no longer make cash credit card repayments at its branches after a union claimed customers are being “forced” to adopt digital banking.
Outraged NAB customers told The Age and radio station 3AW this week they’ve been turned away when trying to pay off their credit cards in branches, saying they were directed to make payments at a nearby post office, online or at an ATM.
“[A NAB worker] said, ‘You can go outside and do it on the ATM or you can pop over to the post office,'” a 3AW listener told the radio station.
“I walked outside, scratched my head, and thought, ‘It’s not April Fool’s Day, so best to go to the post office’.”
Finance Sector Union national secretary Julia Angrisano slammed NAB over the reports, describing them as a “new low” that will disadvantage customers with poor digital literacy, such as the elderly.
“This is an outrageous bid by NAB to block its customers from using branches for a common transaction many older people make,” Ms Angrisano said.
“There is no other reason for the NAB to specifically target credit card payments, except to force customers onto digital banking.”
But NAB has denied the reports, publishing a statement on Thursday afternoon saying customers can still repay credit cards in its branches.
NAB executive Rachel Slade said customers are being shown different ways to repay their credit cards, but that these options aren’t mandatory.
“NAB continues to take credit card payments over the counter in branches,” Ms Slade said.
“Any suggestions otherwise are wrong.”
NAB will make sure this is clearly communicated by staff, she said
Fears over bank accessibility
The backlash NAB faced on Thursday follows years of steady moves away from physical branches and towards online services by banks.
About 350 bank branches closed between the onset of the pandemic and the end of 2021, driving concern regional communities and other vulnerable Australians are being left without access to essential services.
Consumer Action Law Centre CEO Gerard Brody said banks have a commitment to their customers through the Banking Code of Practice to be inclusive and accessible.
But policies such as refusing to take cash payments in branches and branch closures limit access to those who are uncomfortable with digital or online services, such as the elderly or disabled.
“Digital is convenient for many customers, so yes, banks should be invested in digital services and online services,” Mr Brody said.
“But that doesn’t mean they should take away services for in-person (transactions), because there’s a cohort in the community that needs that support.”
Ms Slade said NAB is focusing on digital due to customer demand.
“The way our customers are choosing to bank is changing, so we’re adapting how we serve them,” she said.
“More than 94 per cent of customer interactions are now taking place over the phone, by video or online.
“That’s why we’re investing in digital platforms, which make things easier and faster for customers.”
But Finance Sector Union Queensland local executive secretary Wendy Streets said banks are “forcing” customers to use digital services.
She said the decrease in foot traffic over the last couple of years can be put down to pandemic restrictions.
“We’ve had major, major lockdowns in Sydney and Melbourne and around the country, of course the foot traffic has decreased,” Ms Streets told 3AW.
“But that’s not to say that won’t increase after the pandemic is over, but NAB are using this along with the other banks as an excuse to hasten a branch closure process.”