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Meet the “deadly” team banking remote Australia

11:30am December 21 2022

Westpac's remote banking services team will make at least 30 visits to remote communities every year as part of the bank's commitments under its Reconciliation Action Plan. (Josh Wall)

Kyah Rahutai-Warren didn’t know what to expect when she was invited to visit Maningrida, a community of fewer than 2000 people, 500 kilometres east of Darwin, in the heart of Northern Territory’s Arnhem Land.

“I’ve never been to a remote community,” says the Adelaide-based banker who works in a specialist call centre team dedicated to assisting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander customers of Westpac.

“On the phone we talk to our customers every day and they tell us what's going on in the community, but to actually be there and see it for yourself is just completely different.”

Like Rahutai-Warren, more than 50 per cent of the team identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and, between them, the team can support more than 20 different Indigenous languages spoken by customers, particularly those living in remote communities, to help them with services such as setting up phone and internet banking, getting access to cards and sorting out issues such as scams and fraud.

To deepen her understanding of her customers, Rahutai-Warren recently joined Westpac’s Indigenous business manager Alinta McGuire on the trip to Maningrida, one of the many remote communities McGuire has regularly visited as part of the bank’s remote banking strategy since 2018.

“It’s an educational program essentially,” McGuire says of the visits which aim to remove barriers to financial inclusion often felt in these communities due to geographical distance and language and cultural differences.

“Essentially, we will go anywhere in Australia that's remote, if there’s a community that needs our assistance.”

She explains the bank’s remote banking services team – which made almost 50 visits to communities in the past year and plans to make at least 30 visits annually in future years as a commitment in the bank’s Reconciliation Action Plan – works hand-in-hand with the call centre team.

“The remote service program is amazing, but we can't be there every day,” says the Darwin local.

“Our aim is to support and teach our customers how to engage with the bank using all their self-service options available to them, and to be confident and have trust in the call centre team to help them on a daily basis.”

Cynthia Brown, a Maningrida-based financial advisor with the local Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation, which represents and assists the Aboriginal people of the 32 homelands surrounding Maningrida, says the bank’s visits are helpful for the community.

“A lot of the community members find it hard to obtain ID, which is one of the issues we have to open bank accounts,” says Brown, who provides a money management service in the community including helping people interact with their banks.

“Sometimes it's been hard because they don't have a phone, and they don't have an email, so having that help with Westpac is really, really good,” she says.

Face-to-face service means community members have a better chance of providing their identity so they can access services, Brown says. “That means they don't have to come to us as much because they've got their password and everything they need to do their own [banking],” she says.

On her return to Adelaide from Maningrida, Rehutai-Warren says she is excited to share her experiences with her colleagues and is brimming with ideas to further improve the way the bank services customers living in remote communities around the country.

“Kyah’s just had that wonderful experience. She’s listened to the customer and she now gets to come back and tell us where the opportunities are for us to make a difference,” says Bronwyn Dodd, Westpac’s national general manager, indigenous banking.

Josh Wall is the Head of Video at Westpac Wire. Prior to joining the team, he spent 10 years as a video journalist and documentary filmmaker, most recently as Head of Video for the Guardian Australia. He also worked across numerous News Corp mastheads in Sydney as a presenter, producer, writer and video journalist. Josh is originally from Perth, Western Australia where he began his career by co-creating a video magazine that focused on music and the arts.

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