TWENTY years ago, Rupanyup was facing a future without a vital service.
Through the 1990s, Australia’s major banks were trying to improve their cost-income ratios, which led to branches closing and staffing being reduced.
Rupanyup had gone from having three bank branches to none in the space of a few years.
Residents knew they wanted to maintain banking services in town. So they banded together with Minyip people to create Australia’s first community bank.
Two decades later, about 320 Australian communities have followed their lead.
The Rupanyup/Minyip Community Bank celebrated its 20th birthday this week.
Rupanyup farmer and businessman David Matthews was the inaugural chairman of the two towns’ community finance group.
“Our communities felt that if we didn’t have face-to-face banking, people would go to major regional areas for banking, and in turn their shopping,” he said.
“At the time, there was a group called Wimmera 2020.
“One of the group members heard then-Bendigo and Adelaide Bank managing director Rob Hunt on regional radio saying he thought there was a way to replace banking services in these towns where branches had shut.
“Rob had worked in the Wimmera as a young banker, and felt there was enough wealth to sustain a banking service here.
“We invited him to a meeting, and talked about the concept of partnering with community. We knew we were too small to make it work on our own, so Rupanyup and Minyip joined forces.
“In late 1997 we agreed to have a crack at it. We were the pilot for the community bank model.”
Minyip’s branch opened first, followed by Rupanyup’s shortly after.
Mr Matthews said the result was immensely pleasing.
“We had plenty of people who thought it wouldn't work, so it’s very satisfying to see how well it’s going,” he said. “To look at the 322 community banks across Australia and the fact they will have generated more than $200-million in profits back into their communities by the end of this year is amazing.
“In Rupanyup and Minyip we’ve seen $1 million in direct profits, but that doesn’t take into account the money you spend locally through staffing.
“The other piece it doesn't count is leverage. For example, the bank put in $150,000 for a community centre in Rupanyup, which led to a $750,000 development.
“The powerful piece for me is that this model flips the way we think about our problems.
“We used to have protest meetings in the town; now we have planning meetings.
“We identify a problem, talk about solutions, and then we can go to governments for support and say, ‘By the way – we'll help do this'. It changes the conversation completely.”