A Heart-Centred Philosophy for a Financial Services Organisation

Rob Hunt ex CEO Bendigo Bank“It seems today that everything we have known and understood is being challenged on the basis of globalisation.” Such were the words of the then managing director of Bendigo Bank, Mr Rob Hunt, when he wrote about communities of the future back in 2004. He went on to say, that the best way to build sustainable communities of the future was from within, by involving, uniting and engaging local people in regional and rural Australia in community building programs.

In making these comments, Mr Hunt shared the fact that his organisation had identified some years earlier that one of the difficulties for many regional and rural communities was that they controlled very little of the capital they produced locally, in part due to the ever-increasing centralised banking and financial systems that were impacting on their lives.

With the rapid onset of technology and bank rationalisations in the 1990s, local communities throughout regional and rural Australia were dying out as their local bank branches closed their doors, and local commerce dried up as a result. If people were forced to travel hundreds of kilometres to do their banking in larger neighbouring commercial hubs invariably they spent their money in those hubs as well, ultimately draining their local community of its financial lifeblood.

Out of the ashes of these rural disasters in the making, rose the community bank model. June 1998 saw the inaugural opening of the first ever Bendigo Community Bank®, in the form of the joint Minyip and Rupanyap branches, two tiny towns in north  western Victoria with a combined population of 1100. Since that first foray into rewriting the concept of community and banking, the retail arm of the Bendigo and Adelaide Bank Group (the result of a recent merger in 2007) now boasts 296 locally-owned community bank branches to add to its 190 company-owned branches, 90 agencies and 1900 ATMs represented across all states and territories throughout Australia serving more than 1.4 million customers via its national retail network.

Bendigo Community BankThe Bendigo Bank as it was known back in the late 90s put its money and considerable resources where its mouth was and as a result created a model of banking that is arguably unique in the world and earned it the enviable reputation over the past decade as one of Australia’s most consistently recognised top ten brands in terms of community engagement, financial service provision and corporate social responsibility.

Bendigo Community Bank® branches provide communities with more than just quality banking services. They deliver employment opportunities for local people, keep local capital in the community, are a local investment option for shareholders and provide a source of revenue for important community projects determined by the local community.

Each community bank branch is a locally owned and operated company, which functions as a franchise of Bendigo and Adelaide Bank. Bendigo and Adelaide Bank provides the coverage of its banking licence, a full range of banking products, training of staff and ongoing support.

Part of the bank’s philosophy stems from its belief that it is the role of the bank to ‘feed into prosperity, not off it.’ Bendigo and Adelaide Bank is often lauded for its social responsibility because of its work with communities – almost as if it has tacked a social conscience on to its business strategy. But working for the benefit of its customers and their communities is central to its business strategy. To the bank it makes sense – ‘You cannot run a successful business in an unsuccessful community.’ Therefore, if it can help communities to prosper, then it will have strengthened its markets. And if Bendigo and Adelaide Bank is an essential part of the community fabric, then it is more likely to be supported and to build a sustainable business.

As the bank says on its web site, ‘In the late 1990s, few people thought local communities could influence banks. Now they are running successful branches that are contributing many hundreds of thousands of dollars into building better communities.’ 

Central also to its core business is the Bendigo and Adelaide Bank’s aim to be Australia’s leading customer-connected banking group. The bank’s driving motivation is to help its customers and partners succeed and its communities and districts to flourish, thereby ensuring its business and its sustainability. Social responsibility is therefore not an after-thought that comes after business success, it is part of the DNA that drives its success, because as the bank knows successful communities are great places in which to run a successful business.

Increasingly the Bendigo and Adelaide Bank is finding other ways to help, too. It feels that if community based enterprise can be set up for banking, then it can be accomplished in other areas as well, and as such it is developing ways to encourage local people to commit to buying their services through a company committed to retaining at least some of its earnings in their community, to the mutual benefit of both the bank and the communities it supports.

Bendigo Community Bank Lead On ProjectsSome examples of these joint bank and community initiatives are the locally owned Community Telcos for telephony services; the Lead On Australia youth project underwritten by the Bendigo and Adelaide Bank which is helping communities to engage better with their local youth; the Bendigo and Adelaide Bank’s charitable arm, Community Enterprise Foundation which creates a pool of money that is put towards working to build stronger Australian communities through funding programs for families, youth, health, education, the environment, the arts and more; and projects to address environmental sustainability.

For example, since Lead On Australia was established in 1999, more than 8,500 young people have participated in more than 1250 business and community based projects. These projects have been supported by partners from the business, community and government sectors.

Not only is the bank the instigator and driver of these community-based initiatives, it actively supports and encourages the engagement of its staff at both the head office and local level community levels to make a difference and contribute to the communities in which it and they operate.

Environmental sustainability is another area that is strongly promoted by the bank, primarily through its Generation Green™ partnerships. The bank links sustainability to customers through its Green home and personal loans encouraging energy efficient homes; its Carbon Offset program; its business packages for sustainable water; and its community initiatives supporting the development of bio-diesel projects.

Bendigo CentreOnce again, the bank not only promotes environmental sustainability through its many Green related programs, it has led the way by being the first organisation in Australia to build a five-star Green energy-rated office building in a regional city, one of the first office buildings of its kind in Australia, and the only Australian bank with headquarters located outside a capital city.

The Bendigo Centre, was officially opened in Bendigo, Victoria by then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in December 2008.

Key features of the $100 million, six-storey complex include:

    Half the energy usage of a typical office building of its size.
    A fifty per cent reduction in the use of potable water.
    A water treatment plant that recycles 20,000 litres of waste water per day.
    Recycled water to service all toilets throughout the building, saving almost 4.5 million litres of drinking water each year.
    One of the first large-scale applications of under-floor displacement air conditioning in Australia. Using considerably less energy, this system provides fresh, clean air at a low pressure with individually controlled vents at work stations.
    Solar panels to reduce the amount of black power used. Automated lights that dim or turn off with natural light levels.
    A range of family-friendly facilities which include a mothers and babies room and an after-school room for children where they can use computers to complete homework or watch television.

Bendigo Centre H.O.Needless to say, the work environment is a joy for staff to be a part of with its vast expanse of natural light filled open spaces and chill-out areas built around the soaring central atrium. The interior is a revelation of modern design, comfortable and user friendly with working spaces bathed in natural light.

Currently the branch network is also undergoing remodeling focused on providing enhanced staff-customer engagement in an open and friendly service environment supported by the alternative choice of technology-driven service and automated customer coin counting facilities.

Bendigo and Adelaide BankThe Bendigo and Adelaide Bank’s drive to make community banking a viable alternative in the financial services landscape has restored faith in 296 regional, rural and local communities across Australia as a whole. As the recently retired CEO Rob Hunt says, “Community is important, and we all want to belong, contribute and see improved prospects for ourselves and our children. We have the necessary ingredients and ability to build strong, modern and creative communities of the future – a future only limited by our imaginations.

What are your thoughts on this wonderful community banking story? I’d love to hear them.

Drop me an email to brian@precisionprofiling.com.au if you would like to discuss further how to create the environment that attracts and retains the socially conscious leaders of the future for your organisation.

Until then… Let’s seek to understand more and judge less. Have a great week – Brian

About Brian Clark

Brian Clark is the principal director of Precision Profiling®.

He is a renowned practitioner, writer and speaker on building total customer cultures; values driven leadership and world best practice strategy and implementation.

He has been a guest lecturer on world best practice for the executive management programme at Monash University’s business college (Mt Eliza campus); an adviser to and key note speaker for the Singapore Productivity Association and a consultant to many major Australian and overseas corporations and government departments.

Read more about Brian Clark Here

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