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Summerland moves from a Credit Union to a Bank

The Lismore App

Simon Mumford

24 October 2023, 8:00 PM

Summerland moves from a Credit Union to a BankOutside the Lismore branch and head office of Summerland Bank on Molesworth Street

Summerland Credit Union has announced it will be evolving to the Summerland Bank, ushering in a new era of banking that seeks to put the power back into the hands of the community through its wholly customer-owned banking model.  

The Lismore App sat down with Chair and CEO of Summerland Bank John Williams to find out what the change of name, from a credit union to a bank, means and why is the name changing?

Mr Williams explained you have two sorts of banks in the industry today. Investor-owned banks, are owned by shareholders, so NAB, Com Bank and Westpac, and the primary purpose is the need to return a dividend to their shareholders.

The second option is mutual banks, which are owned by their customers, they are the primary stakeholders. There are no shareholders.

(Chair and CEO of Summerland Bank John Williams)

"That has a totally different mindset about the way we operate and the things that we do for our customers," Mr Williams explained, "Customer-owned banks traditionally have been called credit unions or building societies, but increasingly they have been changed to banks. And the reason is that people don't really understand what a credit union is, and particularly younger people don't understand what a credit union is."

"So, to remain relevant to those or those people into the future. We need to have a title or a name that's relevant to those people and 'bank' is the title of choice.

"All building societies in Australia have already converted to banks, and half of the credit unions in Australia have already converted to banks, and is really about just maintaining relevance into the future and making sure that we can offer that customer and banking benefit that we believe is so strong to a broader reach within the community."

Another meaningful change for Summerland Bank is the recent B Corp certification, which is an international global certification that looks at organisations and assesses their impact on environmental, social, and community outcomes.

"Summerland has had a very strong position on environmental and social sustainability for more than a decade. The certification process is difficult to get through, there are some 300 to 400 pieces of information that we need to provide for them to go through that certification process. We were able to get through on the first attempt, which was wonderful, but it does validate independently, our position and the benefit which we've been providing into the Northern Rivers community for such a long period of time."

"We have a particular focus around the environment. Environmental issues and climate change is a very strong topic within the cohort of people that live within the Northern Rivers and it's also very strong within our own DNA as well. So, we've been working on doing a range of initiatives across a long period of time, across social, across the environment, and across communities."

"On the environmental side, we are 100% green energy in our organisation. Every building, so not only our head office but each of our branches right across the Northern Rivers. In our strategic scorecard, we only have a dozen metrics, but one of those metrics is our own greenhouse gas emissions. So that's how seriously we take our impact on the climate.

"We also want to support the community in their climate change initiatives. We support the Green Innovation Awards through school to help educate younger children in environmental issues and the impacts of climate change. We support various community organisations such as koalas, tree planting, a whole range of initiatives to be able to support the environmental impacts, environmental change and environmental awareness across the region."

"From a social perspective, we are a white ribbon accredited organisation. The aim of white ribbon is to eradicate domestic violence within our communities. Summerland itself is a 70% female workforce so it's a very strong point for us to ensure that we support our staff, but also the communities around such an important topic as domestic violence."

"We support a range of community programs following the floods. Together with our customer-owned banking members, were able to donate approximately $220,000 back into local communities. Forty (40) different local organisations to help rebuild the social fabric of the Northern Rivers following the floods and we thought that was exceptionally important. Those organisations probably would not have received funding from other sources such as government, and we think it's a really important thing to do to rebuild that social fabric for Lismore and for the Northern Rivers more broadly."

Those forty local organisations include supplying 100 native fruiting trees to a village in Wardell to house indigenous women and children who don't have homes, the Woodburn Community Gardens, Red Inc received a defibrillator, Lismore Thistles were provided with an Excellence Award and a recent initiative is working with Friends of the Koala and Bangalow Koalas where Summerland has sponsored ten koalas as well as provided trees to plant.

Summerland Bank will be turning 60 next year and provides employment to more than 100 individuals with ten (10) branches across the Northern Rivers which includes a local call centre where customers are assured they are speaking with locals who understand their needs. 

“Our community knows Summerland’s team and their families, we see each other around town and we come together to support one another in good times and in challenges. As a customer-owned bank, we exist to see our community thrive through new business, innovation, employment opportunities, growing families and affordable and accessible housing. What’s good for the community, is good for Summerland,” Mr Williams added.  

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