The frustration-free way to bank securely online

The days of bank tellers spending time with customers to withdraw, deposit or pay bills at a local branch are rapidly drawing to an end. Here’s how to embrace online banking on the web and in your bank's app while still getting all the support and help you need to avoid painful time-wasting..

By Allison Tait

The future of banking is clear – it’s digital. Whether you access your account through a website or mobile app, digital transactions already make up the vast majority of banking.

The days of paper slips and cheques are over. It's high time because a paper-based system is easy to defraud.

From next year, there will be no more bank cheques and by 2026 there will be no more commercial and government cheques. 2027 is heralded as the year that personal cheques will end.  By the end of 2030, the entire cheque system will be over and done with.

Meanwhile, banks are investing more in technical, digital and remote customer support while closing down branches. Commonwealth Bank subsidiary Bankwest is closing all 60 of its branches across Perth and Western Australia, yet another sign the writing's on the wall for bricks-and-mortar banks that have real humans to help you transact face-to-face.

There is a parliamentary inquiry into the social impacts of bank branch closures but Bankwest says 97% of all Bankwest transactions are now conducted digitally.

A 2022 study by National Seniors Australia found that 80% of older Australians are banking and paying bills online.  So what are the other 20% waiting for?

If you’re a customer who prefers face-to-face customer service and the security and assurance that brings, this article is for you.

With the rise of online banking has come a spike in scammers and hackers trying to access accounts. It’s a rare Aussie who doesn’t regularly receive random texts, calls or emails purportedly from a bank trying to dupe you into sharing personal details or transferring money.

Knowledge is power and understanding digital banking is the best way to keep you and your money safe online.

There are pros to banking online - it will save you time

One of the biggest bonuses of online banking is how much time it saves. 

Accessing your accounts online – or, even better, via the bank’s app – offers the same services you can expect when you walk into a bank branch, but without any long lines or restrictive opening hours (remember the days when banks closed at 3.30pm?).  

The vast majority of everyday transactions are easy to do online or on the bank app, including:

  • Pay bills
  • Transfer money between your own accounts
  • Easily transfer money to other accounts in Australia
  • Monitor payments coming in and out of your account
  • View recent or older bank statements
  • Set up or cancel direct debits.

To access online banking, you need a smartphone, tablet, or computer, and you’ll need to go through an initial registration process to verify your identity and account or accounts. 

Once set up, you’ll be able to access your account as and when you wish and at whatever time you want. 

Most online banking websites and apps are designed to be easy to use.

Banks usually have a dedicated customer support team to help guide you through the process of setting up the apps and using it if you’re not sure where to begin.

Commonwealth Bank, for instance, spells out exactly what you need to register for internet banking via their website, but also offers assistance via telephone with the process 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, or you can get face-to-face assistance in a branch. 

NAB offers a one-page expert guide so you can see the online banking registration process step by step. A virtual assistant is immediately accessible for help.

ANZ’s ‘Getting Started’ page offers an overview, step-by-step instructions, and links to FAQs, a well as phone numbers for support. 

Westpac keeps a list of FAQs handy on its ‘Getting Started’ page, along with links and instructions for downloading its banking app on Apple and Android devices. 

Check with your local public library to see what help may be available to become comfortable with the technology. 

Tech Savvy Seniors, for instance, is a NSW Government initiative in partnership with Telstra that gives people hands-on help to gain confidence with online activities. Find a list of participating public libraries and community colleges here.

Or try the Australian Government’s free online course ‘Introduction to Online Banking’, which was launched by the eSafety Commissioner in 2020 as part of the Be Connected program. It’s designed to teach you basic online banking transactions like how to transfer funds, check balances, download statements, and pay bills, but it will also help you set strong passwords and avoid scams. 

What’s more, there’s even a simulated online bank (called Squirrel Bank), which will allow you to practice your skills before you unleash them on your own bank accounts.

For more help getting comfortable online, see Citro’s articles on fraud-proof online shopping and digital payments 101.

But how safe is online banking?

Using encrypted passwords and your bank's app helps keep your money secure. Never respond to a text or email from a bank, as this can be a phishing attempt.

While it might feel safer to visit a bank, it’s worth remembering that all the information about your account is stored online. The teller is effectively doing online banking for you. 

Banks work hard to protect your money against scammers and hackers – after all, it’s in their best interests to do so – using a range of measures, including anti-fraud teams, secure technology and advanced security features.

If money is stolen from your accounts or your credit card details are compromised due to a security issue or data breach that is the bank’s fault, you are guaranteed compensation.

But if you lose your money because you hand your details to a scammer (whether that be via letter, text, email or phone call), the bank is not required to reimburse you. In 2022, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Australians lost a record $3.1bn to scams, up from $2bn in 2021. So always avoid using shared computers for online banking and maintain secure passwords.

Read more from Citro about understanding facial recognition technology

Develop your nose for scams and phishing attempts

Once you’ve done everything you can to ensure your account’s security, it’s time to develop your nose for scammers. 

One of the most common methods identity thieves use to gain access to your personal and financial information is ‘phishing’ – and like its physical namesake ‘fishing’ it’s about throwing out lures designed to trick you into taking a hook.

Phishing scams come in many different forms, but they’re often email or text scams, and they will include a link to an official-looking website. How many times have you received a text message purporting to be from a bank that you don’t even have an account with? Easy to ignore, right?

But what if you do have an account with that bank? How do you know it’s not legitimate? 

Before you click any links in that message, no matter how official it might look, STOP. Never give out your personal and security details (like your card or customer number, passwords or security codes) – your bank will never ask you to download software and sign in to your banking, nor will they ask for your log-in details over the phone, or via text or email. 

If you’re not sure, ring your bank immediately and ask if they’ve contacted you via SMS or email – and be prepared to identify yourself before they’ll tell you one way or the other. This might mean you need to input a telephone banking PIN code or answer a series of questions to establish that you are the account holder. 

It may be annoying, but it’s designed for the security of your account. 

(Tip: social media is full of ‘fun games’ that do the rounds each year, asking you to remember your first pet or the place where you were born. Don’t play along. These are answers to common security questions on everything from online banking to your Apple ID and provide easy fodder for scammers looking for identity information.

Visit Scamwatch to learn more about the latest scams.

More help from Citro to stay safe online

How to spot an SMS scam before they steal from you.

5 ways to spot an impersonation scam

Stay out of scam’s way: how to avoid scams

Which of the big banks are helpful?

As anyone who has ever waited on hold, listening to interminable muzak, will tell you, customer service can feel non-existent when trying to contact big organisations by phone. 

Banks are aware that fast, simple customer service is a way to win our hearts – and our business. 

One of the easiest ways to see how your bank is faring in this is to check its Net Promoter Score (NPS). A NPS is a customer loyalty metric based on how likely a customer is to recommend a company to others.

All banks report their NPS in their annual report, and there are different measures for customer satisfaction, customer relationships, consumer mobile and more. The higher the score, the more satisfied customers there are. 

The 2023 Banking Customer Satisfaction Awards from Canstar are another gauge. NAB scored the award for the Most Satisfied Customers – Major Bank, Beyond Bank for Most Satisfied Customers Award – Customer Owned Bank, and Up, a 100% mobile bank which began as a partnership between Bendigo Banka and Ferocia, received the Most Satisfied Customers Award – Bank.

Most banks will offer multiple ways to get in touch with them, from live chat within the secure areas of their website or app to calling a 1300 number. Many, such as Westpac, Commonwealth Bank, Macquarie Bank and more, will have a ‘callback’ service, saving you waiting in a queue.

There are also deep and detailed Help or FAQ sections on their websites and apps – you may find the answer to your question there. There’s usually a separate number to call for lost or stolen credits cards so you can get fast service.

Oh, and if you’re wondering just how long you might spend on hold, check the Australian Customer Experience’s reports on the Average Call Centre Wait Time for Australian banks. It not only tells you the bank-wide industry average on-hold times but reveals how long each of the big banks will keep you hanging on the line.  

Advice given in this article is general in nature and is not intended to influence readers’ decisions about investing or financial products. They should always seek their own professional advice that takes into account their own personal circumstances before making any financial decisions. 

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