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Bringing the bank to the bush

“It’s not until you’re there on the ground that you can really understand what people need.” That’s been the greatest learning for Westpac Remote Services banker, Amanda Newton, in her role visiting remote Indigenous communities across WA.

6 June 2022
 

In the most remote communities in Australia, customers would need to drive for up to 14 hours to reach the nearest bank branch. The sheer distance makes even basic banking tasks a challenge.


It’s just one of many difficulties of remote living that people in major cities may not appreciate.


“We've had experiences where individuals are telling us that they haven't been able to go shopping for food for two weeks,” says Suzi Hullick, Westpac’s Head of Indigenous Banking. “A simple thing like getting your card reissued, a PIN reissued, it’s critical,” she says.


That’s where Westpac Remote Services comes in, providing in-the-moment education and support to access banking services such as account opening, unblocking accounts, identification, and ordering new cards.


Westpac Remote Services was established following a pilot in 2018 and, as well as assisting customers with basic banking tasks, the team runs one-on-one demonstrations and workshops to help people access mobile and online banking. In addition, they have recently created a financial hub in some communities – a dedicated space with computers set up with access to online banking and essential government services, and a phone line direct to the Yuri Ingkarninthi Indigenous Connections call centre. It also has a range of educational materials and step-by-step instructions in simple language, supplied by Westpac’s Davidson Institute.


Amanda Newton has been working as a Remote Services banker for two and half years and has made dozens of visits to communities across WA, where she is based.


“I love being out there, talking to people face to face,” she says. “It’s not until you’re there on the ground that you can really understand what people need.”


The locals love having Amanda there, too, and she has built strong relationships with the service providers who work year-round in the various communities she visits. She believes those relationships are the key to success with remote customers, as it is the service providers who really know people and have earned their trust. They can also help customers with their banking in between visits from Westpac, so it’s critical that they understand how to do that effectively.


Daniel Amson is one of those service providers, and he is full of praise for Amanda and the way she operates in his own community. “She came in day after day and put in 100% effort,” he says. “The time she spent helping people get set up with new cards and accounts has already made a huge difference.”


Amanda’s willingness to immerse herself in the daily life of the community was also well received, including helping out with the Breakfast Club at the local school each morning. “It’s what I like to see when people come out here,” says Amson, “joining in, acting like one of us. It helps build relationships and makes people more comfortable, knowing that you aren’t just here to make changes and then leave.”


Remote Services bankers like Amanda also play a critical role in connecting customers to the Yuri Ingkarninthi team, who can provide specialist support, including access to translator services, in between banker visits.


And it’s clearly been working – Yuri Ingkarninthi has taken thousands of calls in the past year from the communities Amanda visits, demonstrating the impact of her work in building lasting connections and helping those customers feel more confident in accessing banking services.


Amanda says the difference she has seen since she first started as a Remote Services banker is incredible. “When I first arrived in these communities, people were frustrated and relying on service providers to do their banking and resolve their issues for them,” she says. “Now I see them empowered to do their own online banking and calling Westpac on the phone, ready with their customer ID and PIN. They know that we’re here to help.”