The fairtrade coffee bean of banks

The Purpose Team

24 November 2015

Just saying it aloud sounds odd and could even be mistaken for a typo: there are banks that exist not solely for profit. One such company, Bank Australia, which started as a credit cooperative in 1957, recently ditched its former name and, with a recent rebrand, hopes to teach people that as with organic cotton T-shirts and fairtrade chocolate, the same consumer power can be illustrated through the bank you choose.

We spoke with Fiona Nixon, Head of Corporate Affairs, to learn exactly what Bank Australia’s purpose-led credo is all about.


Our recent rebrand was vital for one key reason

“The main motivation for our rebranding was to address the fact that our previous name, bankmecu, was unmemorable. Our goal now is to get our message out there. There are so many people who already share our values and who are looking for an alternative bank, but unlike with ethical shopping, there’s not the same awareness that consumer power can also be shown by the bank you choose. So far, the response has been really positive. We’ve been doing a fair bit of advertising, and our branches have noticed a lot more people walking in, intrigued by who we are.”


As a growing small bank, we’ve got one big advantage

“Our most recent customer figures were about 127,000. The biggest challenge at the moment, for small banks in particular, is that we are in such a low-interest environment. This is where the value of being 100 per cent customer-owned comes in. We don’t have a shorter-term view, but a longer-term one because we are accountable to our customers, rather than shareholders. We’re lucky that we don’t have to pay dividends to shareholders. It makes things a little more straightforward. The challenges are we’re in such a competitive market and our competitors have much deeper pockets.”


We learn from other progressive banks around the world

“Our aim, as stated on our website, is to contribute to the mutual prosperity of people, communities and the planet. In Australia, we’re a bit of a lone wolf. We’re the only Australian member of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values – a group of the world’s leading sustainable banks. Two banks we’ve looked to for guidance are Triodos bank in the Netherlands, and Vancity customer-owned credit union in Vancouver. They have both done interesting work to engage their customers and respond to issues they’re passionate about, such as organic farming in the case of Triodos, and poverty in the case of Vancity.”


We’re a challenger brand up for the challenge

“As Australia’s first 100 per cent customer-owned bank, we see the business of banking a little differently to our competitors. We aim to challenge the way people think about the role banks play in building a strong, fair nation and a healthy planet. We know that Australians expect a good deal, so we will always keep our pricing competitive. Key to being able to both challenge our competitors and make a positive impact is running an efficient and profitable business.”


We offset the impact of our products on the environment

“If you get a car loan, we offset the carbon emissions from your car for the duration of the loan via our Bank Australia Conservation Reserve in Victoria. Also, if someone’s building a new house on land that hasn’t previously been built on, we offset the loss of biodiversity and open land. So, if someone buys a 450,000 square metre block, we’ll allocate the same area into the reserve. Since 2008, we’ve bought five different properties, together covering nearly a thousand hectares.”


Damien Walsh, Bank Australia’s Managing Director, is a speaker at Purpose, running 7 & 8 December.


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