BY ALANA LEVENE
In 2014, 10 glammed-up “GAYTMS” sprouted up across Sydney as part of the ANZ Bank’s campaign for Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. ATMs adorned with dazzling rainbow rhinestones and sequin-studded patterns lit up social media and showcased ANZ’s commitment to the LGBTIQA community.
Next month, the bank will shutter its branch on Oxford Street, the one-time epicentre of gay Australia.
The closure, slated for May 7, is due to an increased demand for online and ATM services and a continuing decline in transactions at the Darlinghurst branch, according to Amanda Heath-Ogden, ANZ’s General Manager for Greater Sydney and ACT.
Bank’s commitment questioned
But some local business owners say the decision undermines the bank’s commitment to the area and the gay community.
ANZ has partnered with Mardi Gras since 2007. Since then, they’ve donated more than $100,000 through their ANZ Mardi Gras Community Grants program to fund community groups across Australia, according to a spokesperson.
The bank recently re-signed as principal partner of Mardi Gras for another two years, demonstrating its “continued support for the LGBTI community,” the spokesperson said.
Stephan Gyory, co-owner of vinyl record retailer The Record Store, said he doesn’t see ANZ as a staunch supporter of the community.
“They’re basically abandoning Oxford Street,” he said. “When an area becomes a bit downturned, like we are now because of the lockouts, they just abandon us. So much for supporting Mardi Gras.”
Gyory, who is President of the Darlinghurst Business Partnership, has been using ANZ his whole life. He called the bank “a bunch of pricks”.
ANZ wrote to customers on 15 March to inform them of the closure.
“I was shocked,” said Ken Holmes, founder of Aussie Boys, an iconic Oxford St clothing store.
Noel Lee of The Bookshop Darlinghurst said he sees the closure more as a predictable result of the 2015 lockout laws, which had devastating effects on late-night venues along the LGBTIQA strip.
“This bottom end of Oxford Street has been going through a lot of stuff. The street is really, really dead,” Lee said. “Maybe it’s more a symptom than a cause. It’s part of the way banks are.”
The area recently lost its Optus and its 7-Eleven, and now its losing their bank.
“If you can’t buy your $2 sandwiches or get your phone fixed, that’s a rough indication for any area,” Holmes said. “The street is dying.”
Face-to-face transactions at the Darlinghurst branch have declined more than 38 per cent over the past five years, and this figure “contributed significantly” to the bank’s decision to close the branch, a spokesperson said. Seven per cent of customers do their banking in-branch compared to more than 76 per cent who use the ANZ app, internet banking, and ATMs, according to Heath-Ogden.
“Across the nation we are seeing an increasing trend across many services to move to online options for ease of use, including government systems such as MyGov, Medicare and the Australian Taxation Office,” Heath-Ogden said in a statement.
ANZ has closed 110 branches in the past decade, including at least 35 in 2018, according to Perth Now. The bank’s 2018 full-year profit was $6.4 billion, roughly the same as the previous year. In October 2017, it opened a new branch in Potts Point, a spokesperson said.
“I live in Potts Point, so I’m lucky,” said Gyory. “I can go down there and get change, but I can’t go and do banking if I need to do something urgently.”
Once the branch closes, ANZ will install an ATM on Oxford Street. If customers still want to do face-to-face banking, they can travel to ANZ’s Bondi Junction, 242 Pitt Street, or Surry Hills branches, each less than two kilometers away from the Oxford Street location, Heath-Ogden said.
Gyory said the closure is another hurdle to doing business.
“It’s hard enough to do business already,” Gyory said. “Now you have to go hike down to World Square to get change.”
People contact important
Holmes, of Aussie Boys, has done his banking with the Darlinghurst ANZ for 36 years.
“We’ll have to transfer to other banks,” Holmes said. “As much as people don’t think there’s cash in the world, there is.”
Holmes said he’s friends with the employees in the Darlinghurst branch since he’s been dealing with them for so long. He’ll miss the face-to-face-interaction.
“Sometimes, you need to have contact with people in person rather than with a screen,” Holmes said. “Isn’t that what a community is all about?”
Last year, ANZ completely remodeled the inside of its Darlinghurst bank for Mardi Gras.
“It looked amazing,” recalled Lee. “It was like Elton John meets Versailles.”
“But they didn’t do it this year,” said Holmes. “Maybe that was a subtle hint.”