CommBank is being accused of “hypocrisy” after ordering staff back to the office, stressing the importance of face-to-face interactions, even as it closes branches and forces customers online.

With the country’s largest bank facing a staff revolt over the work-from-home crackdown, many online pointed to the irony.

“[CommBank is] order staff back to the office because face-to-face interaction is important. What about regional customers who have lost their branches and are told that digital is an equivalent substitute? wrote an independent news website the Regional.

According to the Financial Sector Union (FSU), between June 2017 and June 2022, more than 1,600 bank branches were closed, with a disproportionate number located in the Australian region.

In the last financial year, more than 300 bank branches have closed in Australia, 95 of them in regional areas.

A Senate investigation is currently examining the impact of bank branch closures on regional communities, where residents often have no choice but to drive hundreds of miles to their nearest physical location.

Julia Angrisano, national secretary of the Financial Sector Union (FSU), highlighted the double standards.

“The Financial Sector Union stands with our members who are concerned that the CBA will force them back into office,” he said.

“While the CBA is rushing to close bank branches on the grounds that some customers are using digital banking, it is unfair for its staff to be told they cannot choose when to take advantage of digital work from home.”

Ms Angrisano said the directive issued by CommBank “suggested that collaboration was being reduced by staff working from home.”

“There is absolutely no evidence to support this claim,” he said.

“Millions of employees worked from home during the pandemic and the companies and organizations they worked for remained productive. Banks, in fact, have remained so productive that they continue to post record profits that show they haven’t suffered from any work from home.”

The mandate that everyone be in the office 50 percent of the time was delivered to the bank’s 49,000 employees by Chief Executive Matt Comyn and his team on Monday.

But the lawsuit sparked outrage among staff, who lashed out at management during an internal community meeting held to discuss the changes.

speaking to The Australian Financial Review Earlier this week, CommBank group HR executive Sian Lewis said the bank “has now set the expectation with our front office people that starting in mid-July they will be asked to come to the office at least 50 percent of their time. working time per month.

She said the move was fueled by a decision to drive innovation and collaboration with face-to-face interactions.

“We’ve learned that, on average, we’re actively connecting with 11 more colleagues each day when we’re in the office together and spending an extra 20 to 30 minutes collaborating,” he said.

“Our people also spend 40 percent or more of their time connecting with their leader and peers when they’re in the office. We have seen that innovation is the result of the joint physical work of our people”.

The main bank was forced to follow up on the directive in another email on Tuesday.

“We understand how positively everyone has embraced hybrid work and you will still be able to work from home,” the leadership team said.

“However, as we said before, being together in our corporate offices provides stronger levels of connection, which helps us in our own learning, as well as in collaborating to create services for our clients and in sharing and co-developing with our colleagues. .”

He senate committee The inquiry into the regional bank closures held its first hearing in March in Sale, Victoria, with two more hearings last week in the Queensland towns of Cloncurry and Ingham.

At the March hearing, local government officials explained how the move to digital banking had impacted small communities.

East Gippsland Shire council chief executive Anthony Basford said the region had inconsistent internet signal, making it difficult for some locals to turn to online banking.

“Regional Australians are not FIFO residents – we live here and thrive here and we urge banks to reciprocate and invest in us and our regions too,” he said.

“[Internet] It’s very intermittent – ​​one of the things we put in the presentation is that any internet condition is subject to power outage.”

Latrobe City Council Chief Executive Steven Piasente said the closure of traditional banks was a major hurdle for small businesses in his community, adding that many of the area’s locals were older or didn’t use the internet, which it meant his troubles. They were not very listened to.

“[A] The main area of ​​concern for them is how they will raise cash for their businesses and start banking operations,” he said.

“Obviously, the community is very disappointed – you don’t necessarily hear from those who are disproportionately affected, out loud. Those segments of the community don’t have a particularly strong voice, especially those who don’t use Internet services.”

The FSU affirms that the death of the regional bank has been “designed”.

“Members have told us they are trained to direct customers toward using ATMs and online banking to decrease in-person visits to branches,” the union says.

“This approach leads to job insecurity, as FSU members can face disciplinary action or dismissal if they don’t meet targets. If members meet these targets, as they’ve been told, then banks have the evidence they need to implement branch closures.”

CommBank vowed to pause regional branch closures while the Senate investigation continues, but announced in late March that it would close three locations in the capital: Guildford in Sydney, Mountain Gate in Melbourne and Wanneroo in Perth.

At the time, Ms. Angrisano asked the bank to expand its commitment to maintain a moratorium on closing all branches, not just regional areas.

“The CBA should stop all branch closings across the country and wait until the results of the Senate investigation are released before even thinking about closing any more branches,” he said.

“The CBA is Australia’s most profitable bank and can afford to put customers, communities and staff first. Unfortunately, CBA only thinks about their super profits at everyone’s expense.”

A CommBank spokesperson said: “As Australia’s largest bank, we are committed to maintaining the largest branch presence in the country and providing the widest possible range of services to all the communities of which we are a part. Decisions on branch locations will continue to be informed by customer preference and demand.”

— with NCA NewsWire

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