Bill Howe – St. Jerome’s to WOCCU

Ben Woods, Assistant Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

Bill Howe in Canberra, 1988 [from Collection]

Henry William (Bill) Howe was a committed credit unionist, whose tireless work and values saw him become the first Australian President of the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) in 1982 and receive an Officer of the Order of Australia Medal in 2001. Bill’s life in credit unions is a fascinating one and his story is pieced together through records in our collection such as his oral history interview with Richard Raxworthy of 1990, as well as articles in Credit Union Quest, Australian Credit Unions Magazine and Connexus.

Bill Howe was born in Five Dock, Sydney, in 1934 and educated at North Sydney Boys High School. He studied civil engineering at Sydney Technical College but drifted into land surveying and drafting which he qualified in.

Bill’s involvement with credit unions began when he started to see his future wife. His future father in law was the secretary of St Jerome’s Catholic Parish Credit Union which began in 1949 and became Pinnacle Credit Union. When Bill asked for his girlfriend’s hand in marriage, her father replied, “If you want my daughter’s hand in marriage, you’ve got to be involved in credit unions”.

With experience with St Jerome’s under his belt, Bill, Ron Birch and others began Sydney Water Board Officers Credit Union in August 1959. It became Community First Credit Union in 1993 which it continues to trade as.

There was very little of the credit union world that Bill didn’t visit and indeed take a big role in. He established the Credit Union Savings Reserve Board, was President of the Australian Federation of Credit Union Leagues (AFCUL) from 1981-1985, was Chairman of the Association of NSW Credit Unions, a time that saw him at the forefront of the amalgamation of the regional NSW associations and, as stated before was elected as the first Australian President of WOCCU in 1982. There is more else besides.

Along with his credit union work and employment with the Sydney Water Board, Bill was involved in trade unions, the Army Reserve and part-time teaching. He told Raxworthy that he put in long hours to get everything done and he didn’t see how he could engender the respect of his subordinates at the Water Board if he didn’t contribute his fair share because he was off on other business. He also said that his credit union commitments caused him to spend a lot of time away from home and although his family was supportive, there was friction at times.

In a profile on Bill by Connexus magazine in 2001, he was quoted as saying that credit unions epitomise the spirit of community:

“Most of us feel like we need a hand at times, and that’s when you turn to your neighbours for support. You find that everyone you meet has similar experiences and are prepared to work together.”

The article also featured Bill’s colleague and CEO of Community First Credit Union, Keith Delaney’s thoughts on Bill.

“Bill would always find a way to achieve what he needed to achieve,” Keith said. “His passion for what could be achieved for people through credit unions was unrelenting”.

Richard Crosbie – A Professional Co-operator

Ben Woods, Assistant Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

Richard Crosbie was among the first generation of professionals from the “mainstream” finance industry to be recruited into the credit union movement. He lead significant reforms in the 1980s and 1990s, most notably CUSCAL’s Project Renewal.  

Crosbie was born in Birchip, Victoria in 1939 and raised on a farm. He was a bright kid and his family had aspirations for him to work in a bank and indeed that’s what he did after leaving school. His high school teachers told him he would be selling himself short if he didn’t go to university but in his late teens Richard lacked the confidence to do so. He told oral historian Richard Raxworthy in the 1992 interview held in our collection that at that stage university would’ve been too much of a “culture shock” for him.

He eventually went to university to study economics after two years of working in a bank before joining academia at Footscray Technical College which today is Victoria University. It was from academia that Crosbie was recruited into the credit union movement. He told Raxworthy that:

“Well there had been a very small credit union founded at Swinburne which was one of the colleges and they made a decision in the mid-1970s, early 1970s, that perhaps they had better extend it out to all the other ones. So one day I had a guy knock on the door and say that he was a Director of this credit union and they were looking for Directors from other colleges and somebody had given him my name. I said, ‘Oh yes, if it’s only once a month there is not much of an involvement,’ and I guess in one way or another it has consumed me ever since. So I was a Director of that credit union, still am a Director of that credit union. It is now a tertiary credit union, it was college and college staff.”

Richard remained Chair of Tertiary Credit Union for many years and soon took on other roles, including the Chairs of the Victorian Credit Co-operative Association (VCCA) and the Australian Federation of Credit Union Leagues (AFCUL) simultaneously.

The August 1982 edition of Australian Credit Unions Magazine featured a reproduction of a recent speech made by Crosbie at that year’s CU Convention. It prefigured what was discussed in the meetings of Project Renewal in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Crosbie began his speech by outlining the problems credit unions were facing:

“Loans for consumers are freely available outside of credit unions and are available on terms that are comparable with credit unions. In responding to these new market conditions, we in the credit union movement are finding it difficult to maintain adequate operating margins. At the same time, we are finding that our costs are rising”.

One of these costs was operating technology – something that is still relevant today and was part of the centralising drive behind Project Renewal. Crosbie went on to discuss these issues in his 1982 speech:

“A further challenge is coming from the fact that credit unions are now starting to share facilities – EDP, central banking, marketing, just to name a few. This sharing is very desirable on the grounds of efficiency.”

These technologies meant that it no longer made sense for each state to have a central body to look after high level, back office processing. Crosbie told Raxworthy that this needn’t be a concern:

“The members are not interested in the back office. How did you do that? Where did that go? Did that transaction go electronically via Darwin or Sydney, or whatever? As long as they get what they want down the other end”.

With financial legislation then being taken over by the federal government and applying to all financial institutions it also made sense for the advocacy functions of the state leagues to be centralised in CUSCAL, then in ABACUS and today in COBA.

Raxworthy ends his interview with Crosbie by asking him if there’s anything else he’d like to say. He responds with:

“After some time there should be interviews asking how it [Project Renewal] has all gone because as you say people were very apprehensive about it first up, it’s been running for a while now, it’s still a bit early to judge whether it’s worked, but long after I’m gone somebody can do an assessment on whether it has worked out. I think it was the most exciting thing I’ve been involved in [with] the credit union movement and despite a few problems and warts it’s still been of critical importance to the survival of credit unions and I don’t regret doing it”.

In 1992, Richard Crosbie was made an Officer of the Order of Australia for his services to the credit union movement. At the time Directions magazine noted his contribution to Project Renewal and his work, “to remove discrimination against credit unions in the financial system, with the remaining barriers set to fall on the implementation of the Wallis Inquiry recommendations”.

Among all this “modernising”, Crosbie was always keen to stress that credit unions maintain their mutuality in order for them to maintain their relevance. He ended his 1982 Australian Credit Union Convention speech on a poignant note and it doubles as a good way to close this profile of a committed credit union professional:

“The saying of the people who are strong on philosophy is – what are the things that you want to attain, and then demanding of the efficiency experts how to achieve what is wanted. It is far too easy for the efficiency experts to say, it is too expensive, get rid of it. The role of volunteers is to say that it is fundamental to what I understand credit unions are about. What I want you, my professional manager/efficiency expert to do, is to find a way of achieving it for me.”

CUSCAL executive, ca. 1990s – from left, Alex Sala, Richard Crosbie (CUSCAL President), Dr Vern Harvey (CUSCAL CEO)

Credit Union Incitec Pivot – A Fertile Ground for Mutuality

Ben Woods, Assistant Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

Credit Union Incitec Pivot was born as CFL Credit Union in Brisbane in 1972. The formation meeting was held in the Professional Officers’ Association HQ in Ann Street in May of that year. It had a remarkably successful beginning with around 40% of CFL employees becoming members of the credit union after only 12 months of operation.

After 10 years of trading, there were 1263 full members of CFL CU and 317 associate members. Australian Credit Unions Magazine had this to say on CFL’s 10th birthday:

“On a broad scale, CFL’s average savings per member is one of the highest within the credit union movement in Australia. This indicator is consistent with CFL’s rating as one of the most successful industry based credit unions”.

In 1984 its name was changed to Credit Union Incitec and then Credit Union Incitec Pivot in 2004. Incitec Pivot has a long history of chemical production in Australia, most notably in phosphate based fertilisers. Interestingly, Pivot began as the Phosphate Co-operative Company of Australia in 1919, so it seems that mutuality was in their DNA …

Australian Credit Unions Magazine spoke to Credit Union Incitec Chairman, Tom Watson (pictured below), in June 1993 when he made a statement on their philosophy:

“We are keenly aware our members wouldn’t be enjoying the level of services we make available without the support of the Movement at large, particularly through co-operative ventures such as member chequing, information technology and Redinet. Access to such services is a classic example of the benefits of the ‘pooling of resources’. It’s what sets us apart from our competitors”.

The Australian mutual financial movement is known for many positive contributions to Australian society, an important one being the early and ongoing promotion of talented women to responsible positions on boards and as CEOs. One of these talented women was Gwen Watson who was profiled in Australian Credit Unions Magazine in February 1996 on her retirement as General Manager of CU Incitec.

When Gwen started working at the credit union in 1973, she didn’t know what a credit union was. Nevertheless, she rose to become General Manager in 1982 and stayed in that role until her retirement. Gwen told Australian Credit Unions Magazine that the best decision the credit union made was their support of Youth Forums.

“We’ve had two lots of kids attend the Youth Forums in the last two years, and the change in the kids is just marvellous”, said Gwen.

Incitec stayed with a winning formula by employing Elizabeth Taylor as Gwen’s successor as General Manager. Elizabeth had been with Incitec for 18 years by that stage.

Just two years after the name change to Credit Union Incitec Pivot in 2004, the business transferred engagements to Circle Credit Co-operative.

Sam Walters – a profile

Amanda Barber, Senior Archivist, Australian Mutuals History


Photograph of Sam Walters, c. 1995 (from collection PH 904)

Samuel Brian Walters (9 January 1939 – 11 July 2005) was a notable figure in the South Australian credit union movement. Sam was born in South Australia in 1939 and went to the intermediate level at school. In 1954 he joined E S & A (English, Scottish & Australian) Bank.

Sam work for 18 years with the E S & A Bank (later ANZ Bank) and then AGC (Australian Guarantee Corporation), before he joined the then Postal Technicians (SA) Co-operative Credit Union in 1974. It later changed its name to Australian Commissions Credit Union. The credit union amalgamated in 1984 with the ABC Mutual Credit Union and became the Australian Central Credit Union.

Sam guided the Adelaide-based Australian Central Credit Union from 1974 until his retirement as Managing Director in 2000.  Under his management, Australian Central became the first credit union in Australia to reach $1 billion in assets in 1999. He encouraged his staff to place a high priority on understanding members’ needs and building relationships.

In a 1988 oral history interview with Campbell Laughton (held by Australian Mutuals History) Sam Walters said about credit unions that the “concept is everything we do is for the member”. It is the “co-operative working for people” and the benefit of credit unions is that “that they take out the profit taker in the middle”.

Sam was also active on the board of CUSCOSA (Credit Union Services Co-operative of South Australia), as well as serving as Chairman of the CUSCAL Membership Council.

In addition, Sam Walters was appointed chair of HomeStart Finance (established by the South Australian Government with the mission to ensure that home ownership remains attainable for low to moderate income households) in July 2001. Sam also contributed widely to the business sector in South Australia.

Sam Walters died on 11 July 2005 aged 66.

Photograph of Sam Walters (far right), John Auld and others at the Special School Awards (from collection PH 1236)

Media Credit Union 1981-1991

Ben Woods, Assistant Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

Picture from The Common Bond, June 1986

While Media Credit Union traded for a mere decade, its roots go back to 1969 and the groundwork prepared by it and its predecessors eventually paved the way for Bank Australia.

Media CU was formed in 1981 by the amalgamation of David Syme Employees Credit Co-operative and Southdown Employees Credit Co-operative. David Syme took over The Age newspaper from his brother in 1860 and subsequently guided the paper to great success. Southdown Press was a longstanding publisher of magazines, so the name Media Credit Union was an obvious choice. This choice of name also paved the way to broadening the bond to include employees of other media companies in Victoria including, Progress Press, Truth newspapers, Datamail and 3XY radio.

In June 1986, the Victorian Credit Co-operative Association (VCCA) magazine, The Common Bond, profiled Media CU at what was a time of immense change for the organisation. After 5 years of operation as Media CU, the credit union felt the pressure to expand which included moving the head office to a South Melbourne location.

South Melbourne was chosen as the location for the new head office as their records revealed that 32% of the membership resided in the area. An unsurprising statistic with South Melbourne being a hub for the media industry. With the move came an application for a bond to service any resident of the South Melbourne community along with its existing industrial bond.

“South Melbourne is the hub of the media industry in Victoria. However we had to make facilities available immediately because of the applications by other credit unions. The community bond was, in a sense, thrust upon us”, said Media CU General Manager, Rob Davy.

A large PR drive was undertaken in order to encourage the South Melbourne community to make the switch to Media Credit Union. There was a public launch of the new HQ in May 1986 involving the Mayors of South Melbourne and Port Melbourne. Local sporting bodies, churches and small businesses were approached, a full page ad was taken out in a local newspaper and letter drops were made to residents printed in English and Greek. Despite all this, some long term members had reservations about the new community bond ….

 In 1991, Media Credit Union transferred engagements to Outlook Credit Union Co-operative.

SEC Credit Co-operative – 1970-1998

Ben Woods, Assistant Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

SEC Credit Co-op branch, 1980s [from collection]

In 1986, the SEC Credit Co-operative was the fastest growing credit union in Victoria. At the time it managed assets worth more than $106 million and was owned by 30,000 members – all of which was kept in order by 65 staff. Those stats are particularly interesting when you consider that earlier that year, the SEC membership voted against expanding the bond of the credit union.

SEC stood for State Electricity Commission of Victoria. The February 1986 Issue of The Common Bond, the magazine published by the Victorian Credit Co-operative Association, featured an article about SEC Credit Co-operative that explained the reason for its existence and its relationship with the SEC:

“We have been totally autonomous since 1973. The SEC recognises the contribution the credit union is making towards the financial and related services of its employees and receives the Commission’s full support and encouragement”, said SEC Credit Co-op General Manager, Howard Betts.

Mr Betts went on to outline how SEC allows liaison officers of the credit union to speak to employees from time to time and encourages the display of credit union information on office notice boards.

“There is no direct cost to the SEC. They recognise that employees will work more safely with better productivity if they don’t have financial worries”, said Mr Betts.

The Common Bond article noted the strong record of SEC Credit Co-op and that recent times offered great opportunities but also significant challenges. Mr Betts said, “1985 was a breakthrough year for credit unions with Visa, Redicard and member chequing becoming available”.

At the same time there was the challenge of deregulation. Mr Betts said:

“Credit unions have got to lift their game in a number of areas. We are right in the vortex of deregulation of financial institutions and there are areas in which we are not seen to be competitive. Many credit unions have lost the vision of what credit unions were established for – cheap loans. Some credit unions must examine themselves because banks and building societies are putting out better interest rates for consumer loans than credit unions.”

Street view in Melbourne’s CBD from the SEC Credit Co-op branch in the 1980s [from collection]

SEC Credit Co-op was heavily involved in the Sounds of Silver campaign during the 1980s which raised money for the Deafness Foundation. However, Mr Betts said that, “Above all else our credit union is about people and it is our responsibility to provide for their financial and allied services needs within a co-operative environment”.

SEC Credit Co-operative became Enterprise Credit Union in 1984 and merged with Outlook Credit Union and CSIRO Co-operative Credit Society in 1998, becoming Members Australia Credit Union.

Nereida Marie Matthews – a short profile

Amanda Barber, Senior Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

Nereida Matthews with her 2002 Award for Distinguished Service (from Collection)

Nereida Matthews (26 November 1927 – 14 January 2016) had a long and distinguished involvement with credit unions, and worked for over 35 years in various capacities within the sector.

Nereida Matthews involvement with the credit union movement started in 1969 when she was appointed the first full time employee of the then Irrigation Commission Credit Union Co-operative. In 1970 Nereida was appointed to the role of Manager / CEO and under her leadership the credit union expanded through mergers and opening up its membership base to those either living or working in the lower North Shore of Sydney. It was later renamed Resources Credit Union.

In 1985 the Daily Telegraph (February 5, 1985 edition) ran a feature on women managers of credit unions. One of the women featured was Nereida Matthews, then Manager at the Irrigation Commission Credit Union, and the article quoted her as saying “Working in a credit union is not just a job. It’s more a way of life. Helping people on a personal basis is what credit unions are all about. And although it’s hard work, it’s very satisfying”.

After a remarkable 21 years career with the credit union Nereida retired as the CEO in 1990. However, she continued an involvement with Resources Credit Union when she was appointed a Director in 1992. Nereida remained a Director until January 2007, serving on the Board for nearly 15 years. Whilst on the Board, she served as Chair (from 1998 to 2005), Deputy Chair for two stints and as an Audit Committee member for 13 years

Nereida Matthews in 1985

Nereida’s expertise was recognised in the broader credit union movement when, in the mid-1970s, she served as a Director on a “Common Board” set up initially by the New South Wales Credit Union League to assist in administering failing credit unions until they were returned to viability.

In 2002 Nereida received an Award for Distinguished Service from the Australian Credit Union Movement, in recognition of her outstanding contribution to credit unions.  

Nereida Matthews passed away in 2016.

MCU – Financing the ‘Co-operative Capital of Australia’

Ben Woods, Assistant Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

Maleny Credit Union (MCU) HQ

The town of Maleny, located in the hinterland of Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, approximately 100 kilometres from Brisbane, is home to Maleny Credit Union (MCU). MCU is known to be extremely interested in green financial products and environmental sustainability more generally. The roots of this are in the social history of the community which has been dubbed the ‘Co-operative Capital of Australia’.

The economic history of Maleny is dominated by the dairy industry and indeed the first cooperative in the town was a mutually owned and run butter factory in 1904. The last butter factory closed in the 1970s around the time when an influx of “alternative” people came to the area interested in collective enterprises and preserving the natural environment.

Since the 1970s, cooperatives in an array of industries sprung up some of which are still operating today. These include the Maleny Film Society, the Maple Street Cooperative Society and of course MCU.

One of the driving forces behind the boom in cooperatives in Maleny in the 1970s was the late Jill Jordan. Quoted in the Hinterland Grapevine, of the 70s in Maleny, Jill said,

“Although the urge to start something arose from our own needs, there was a conscious feeling that we wanted to provide something not just for ourselves but for the rest of the community”.

She went on to say that, “There is a place of trust that people arrive at and it is then they give of their best. It is the underlying culture not the legal framework that is important in building the culture of co-operation.  It is being able to work together that makes us successful and it makes good economic, environmental and social sense.”

MCU (initially Maleny and District Community Credit Union) was put together on a shoestring budget by Jill Jordan and her friends in 1984. It was staffed by volunteers in rented rooms with accounts entered in a handwritten journal. Nevertheless, on the first day of operations $50,000 in deposits were made.

Ms Jordan was quoted on MCU in our publication Memories and Recollections in 2002:

“I was the ‘drive’ behind the formation of MDCCU, and was the first manager. In 1983, Bill Mollison (of Permaculture fame) went to the USA and was very impressed by the ethical financial institutions which had formed there. So he came back to Australia and called a few of us ‘radical movers and shakers’ to a gathering in his living room in Stanley, Tasmania as an ‘Alternative G7 Summit’ (the G7 was going on at the same time in Melbourne). I came home to Maleny inspired that we should begin our own ethical financial organisation to keep money circulating in our area, and half a dozen of us formed a working group”.

Earlier in the year we interviewed new Australian Credit Union Archives Trustee, Greg Stevens, who was CEO of MCU for 3 and half years. He gave us a firsthand account of MCU’s commitment to conservation. He described Maleny as a “caring and green community credit union”, where “about 60-65% of our loans were for green purposes”.

At the time of writing MCU has approximately 3500 owner members, with total assets of around $43.5 million.

References

Australian Credit Union Historical Co-operative (2002). Memories and recollections. Australian Credit Union Historical Co-operative Ltd, Haymarket, N.S.W

Cumming, S. (2020). Town’s identity shifts as co-op numbers dwindle. Retrieved 9 November 2020, from https://www.sunshinecoastdaily.com.au/news/towns-identity-shifts-as-co-op-numbers-dwindle/3180035/

Derby, Mark (2012). Building a better Australia : 50+ stories of co-operation (Commemorative edition). Focus, North Sydney, NSW

Greg Stevens – A Credit Union Renaissance Man. (2020). Retrieved 9 November 2020, from https://mycuhistory.wordpress.com/2020/07/15/greg-stevens-a-credit-union-renaissance-man/

Hinterland Grapevine – Will Maleny be the same without our Jill Jordan. (2020). Retrieved 9 November 2020, from http://www.hinterlandgrapevine.com/range-news/range-news-2007/will-maleny-be-the-same-without-our-jill-jordan.htm

“Credit Union Australia Can Do!”

Ben Woods, Assistant Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

With over 500,000 members Credit Union Australia (generally known as CUA) is Australia’s biggest credit union. It is also directly linked to Australia’s first “official” credit union, the Catholic Thrift and Loan Co-operative which emerged in NSW in 1946. Among the history that CUA has made is a number of television commercials, one of which Australian Mutuals History has just digitised and is making available for public viewing below.

The short 30 second commercial with the tagline, “Credit Union Australia Can Do!”, was produced sometime in the late 1980s/early 1990s and was held by us in its original VHS format until digitisation. You can see that the ad is made with the most up to date production values available at the time, although unfortunately the audio quality has deteriorated somewhat. This highlights the importance of being aware of the fragility of records regardless of their format.

Elcom Credit Union on TV

Ben Woods, Assistant Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

The 1990s were a boom time for credit union advertisements appearing on television. Australian Mutuals History has a significant collection of these, mostly on VHS video tape which we are digitising in instalments. The link below is to three ads from the era promoting Elcom Credit Union.

Elcom Credit Union was registered in 1966 as Newstan Collieries Employees Credit Union. It changed its name to Elcom Credit Union in 1973 and expanded its bond but remained based in the Lake Macquarie region of NSW, as you will see in the video. The most striking thing about the ads is the interest rate advertised early on … Elcom Credit Union transferred engagements to Community First Credit Union in 2006.