Keith Young’s Missionary Zeal

Ben Woods, Assistant Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

Keith Young speaking at a NSW Credit Union League function in 1957 [AMH Collection]

Ken Miller was one of the most influential leaders in Australian credit union history and this was partly thanks to his writing, which includes his book A Reluctant Volunteer (1998). Therefore we have recourse to his words quite often as part of our research.

Recently, we were taken aback when we discovered the high praise he heaped on Keith Young in the oral history interview he recorded with Richard Raxworthy in 1990 that we hold. When Richard asked Ken about the early days of the NSW Credit Union League (NSWCUL), Ken said:

To my mind the one who deserves the most credit for the formation of League was Keith Young. Keith Young was Secretary, did all the work in my view. I know this because he kept on constantly chasing me to see what credit union I could join … Certainly, whatever did happen there and whoever was named as the Secretary, it was Keith Young who was doing all the work.

We decided it would be worthwhile to do some more digging and indeed Keith Young became the first Secretary of NSWCUL when it launched in 1956. Keith recorded his own oral history with Richard Raxworthy in 1989 where he confirms most of what Ken recorded in his interview.

He told Richard that he was born in Mosman, NSW, in 1926 and went to school at Mosman Intermediate High School. He served in the RAAF in World War II but was “chairborne not airborne” and served as a pay clerk.

He remained a “bean counter” (his words) after the war, working as a clerk doing accounts (bookkeeping, pay roll) with CSR, a building materials firm that is still operating today. He was the driving force in the creation of CSR Officers Credit Union in 1956 as a foundation Director and stayed on in that role until 1977. CSR Officers Credit Union was the first industrial credit union formed in NSW.

His first experience of credit unions came via his church parish at Balgowlah, where he heard about credit unions from an Anglican minister. He took the knowledge back to his home parish and formed what was initially called West Manly Savings and Loans Society in 1954.

Keith told Richard Raxworthy the story of the formation of CSR Officers Credit Union:

What happened in regard to that was I used to work for CSR out of Alexandria, and we had a little lunch room. We all used to sit there and eat our lunch and people used to talk about what they were up to and so forth and so on and I happened to mention that we had formed a credit union in the local parish church. The Manager at the time said, ‘If this credit union is so good operating in the parish why can’t we start one, or why can’t you start one for CSR staff?’ I said to him, ‘Well, I am prepared to have a strike if you will give me half a day off to do something about it.’ He said, ‘Yes, you can have tomorrow afternoon off to go to head office in town and see what you can do.’

So I came to town the next afternoon and I sought out a friend who I knew was on the executive of the CSR Officers’ Association, which was the union. He said, ‘What’s on your mind?’ I said, ‘This is the story,’ and told him about the credit union and how I happened to be there. He said, ‘It sounds good to me. If I can get the executive of the Association together at four o’clock this afternoon will you tell us about this credit union?’ I said I would. So at four o’clock a meeting of the Association executive was held and I outlined what a credit union was, what we were doing in the parish. The executive decided there and then they would immediately move to form a credit union within CSR. So the whole thing got underway and as I say the CSR Officers’ Credit Union was formed in 1956.

I served as a Director of that right up until 1977, when I was seconded from CSR to become the full-time Manager of the credit union. It was during my seven or eight years with the credit union that the whole thing really blossomed and took off. It is now a $10 million credit union.

Keith attended the formation meeting of NSWCUL wearing two delegate hats, one for West Manly Credit Union and one for CSR Officers Credit Union. His expertise and enthusiasm impressed the meeting and he was made foundation Secretary of the League.

He resigned his position as NSWCUL Secretary in 1962 due to increasing family commitments but not before bringing back to Australia the concept of Loan Protection Insurance from a trip he made to the US in 1958 with Clarrie Murphy as guests of CUNA (Credit Union National Association).

Australian Mutuals History holds a number of typescript manuscript reports written by Keith in the late 1950s from his time with NSWCUL. Educational in tone, they are titled, “Self Help Finance Through Credit Unions”, “Mutual Aid with Money” and “Burglary – Protect Your Credit Union”.

Here is a nice little slice from “Mutual Aid with Money”:

Credit unions have generally interpreted their limitations to mean that loans must be of real benefit to the borrowers. That means that members of a credit union instinctively feel, “It’s our money … but we won’t let it out on foolish risks. No betting money.”

Expenses of credit unions are low because those most actively involved in administration give their services without salary.

Keith resigned from CSR and all involvement in credit unions in 1984 and became Honorary Federal Treasurer of the Church Missionary Society.

Keith Mannix: Developing Credit Unions

Ben Woods, Assistant Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

Keith Mannix hard at work, ca. 1980 [AMH Collection]

Keith Mannix had a big influence on the development of the Australian credit union movement in the last quarter of the 20th century. He held important positions with the NSW Credit Union League (NSWCUL) and the NSW Credit Union Savings Board. He was also appointed to the first Board of the Australian Financial Institutions’ Commission and was a Regional Manager for CUSCAL among other work.

However, Keith’s first love was rugby league. In fact he left his first job with the Commonwealth Bank in Sydney so he could play with the Wynnum-Manly club in Brisbane. In Sydney, his work with the Commonwealth Bank was interfering with his rugby league career with Canterbury.

The Keith Mannix story began in Sydney where he was born in 1942 at the height of the Second World War. His father was in the RAAF and that position took the family to Maryborough, Qld. When his father was then stationed in New Guinea, his mother moved the family back to Sydney to live with her parents.

The family was reunited in Sydney after the war and Keith grew up there except for a brief period in Katoomba where he attended Katoomba High School before returning to Sydney and Punchbowl High School. Keith told Richard Raxworthy in the oral history interview recorded in 1994 and held in our collection, that his father was a very community minded person who had a profound influence on him. He also had a deep respect for a music teacher who he said, “had a great influence on me. It was only for a short period of my life but he is a guy I will never forget. He is now the Head of the Conservatorium of Music”. Keith sang in the school choir and played trombone in the school band.

After he finished with Wynnum-Manly Rugby League Club he returned to Sydney and worked outside of finance before joining NSWCUL as the Field Officer in 1974. Keith had this to say to Richard Raxworthy when asked about how he enjoyed his important Field Officer role:

Well it was very good. I was very fortunate because at that stage, which was in 1974, the credit union movement was really exploding growth-wise, numbers of credit unions and that. My very first job, I remember this clearly because it really gave me a tremendous footing in the movement, was to go around and do a series of mini-surveys of credit unions. So in the first three months of employment, or six months say, I visited some ninety credit unions and did a survey of their operations. It was something which gave me a tremendous insight into the operation of credit unions from day one. These mini-surveys also gave the management of the League tremendous insight into the financial strength of the credit union movement. So that was my very first job.

He then worked as the Development Officer at NSWCUL during a time of unprecedented growth in financial mutuals. However, it was also a difficult time economically in Australia. This created the circumstances that led to the establishment of the Savings Reserve Board. Here is Keith on his work as the Development Officer at NSWCUL:

I became involved in the formation of new credit unions and the development of community credit unions, which were a new thing at that stage. …. Then the financial crisis that we had in Australia in late 1974 and early 1975 really then pushed me into this area of stabilisation of problem credit unions.

It really was a very difficult time for all New South Wales credit unions because at that stage, and I remember this very clearly, on 1 January 1975, when the newest credit union in New South Wales was formed, that was the Northern Mineworkers Credit Union, I remember this well because Steve Burton and myself were the two that actually formed it, made the five hundred and fourth credit union registered in New South Wales.

Keith went on to say that of those five hundred credit unions, “nearly 200 were sick”. This is where his work with the NSW Credit Union Savings Board was most crucial. Richard Raxworthy asked Keith how it was that so many credit unions got into difficulties and it is worth quoting Keith at length on the issue in order to get a good grasp of the situation:

Well deficit budgeting, of course, is the easy blame for it but the fact of the matter is that any credit union that has ever been formed will take eighteen months before it reaches the point of break even. Therefore, for the first eighteen months all new credit unions go into deficit. Now the large number of credit unions that were being formed meant that there was a large number of credit unions with deficits.

Now the things that led to that were financial management inexperience, the bonds of areas of credit unions being too small, the rapid changes to the financial climate at that time which credit unions just couldn’t cope with, vis a vis there was a very large increase in interest rates at that time. I’d say the going rate went from six per cent to eighteen per cent in a period of nine months but credit unions appeared to be locked into their one per cent per month charging mechanism and really it was too big a step for them to increase interest rates. That lack of change with the rest of the financial environment created major problems for them. But then also with their growth came other problems, especially the problem of bad debts. As they became larger and larger their lending expanded and the close knowledge of their borrowers started to dissipate.

During this period Keith had his first experience of managing a credit union. Blacktown Credit Union was in dire straits and he took over as General Manager for a period of nine months to see what could be done with it. He saw it safely merged into Central Mutual Credit Union before moving onto his next rescue mission.

Keith’s last big role in customer owned banking was as General Manager of Select Credit Union from 1995 to 2000.

Keith receiving CUSCAL’s Distinguished Service Award in 1997 for services to the Australian credit union movement [AMH Collection]

The Life & Times of Comtax Credit Union 1971-2008

Ben Woods, Assistant Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

Comtax Credit Union was created in 1971 via the marriage of Income Tax Officers Credit Union and the Fourth Division Taxation Officers Credit Union. In 2008 it went into partnership with Security Credit Union forming Allied Members Credit Union. Comtax and Security maintained their brand names and hoped to prosper but various forces – regulatory, technological and perhaps others – saw them transfer engagements to Sydney Credit Union (now Sydney Mutual Bank) in 2014.

Income Tax Officers Credit Union was begun by a group of like-minded tax officers in 1958. The first deposit of $13 was made on 28 February 1958. The maximum loan at the time was $500 and the average wait time for a loan was 10 months. However, the wait shrank to two months within the first year of operation. After the first year the credit union had 432 members and at the end of the 1969 financial year it had 1345.

Fourth Division Taxation Officers Credit Union was registered on 4 September 1958 a mere 7 months after the somewhat larger Income Tax Officers Credit Union. The main driver behind the formation of Fourth Division was Neville O’Mara, who was a foundation Director along with Ron Nibbs, Jim Ryan, Harry Marrow, Len Naylor, Bill Hay, Pat Carson, Gordon Timmins and Noel Coghill.

Comtax Credit Union was formed after a Steering Committee was appointed by a joint meeting of the Directors of the original credit unions to look into whether an amalgamation would be the next logical step in growing the Credit Union Movement within the Taxation Office. When it was decided to go ahead with the merger the committee looked at the best way of combining services to ensure a smooth transition for the optimum service to the membership.

The following is a glimpse into the life and times of Comtax Credit Union via our extensive collection of their photographs.

From left: Bob Walker and Pat Mullins of Income Tax Officers Credit Union meeting with Bill Hay and Elgine Kelly of Fourth Division Taxation Officers Credit Union at the joint board meeting to decide on the formation of Comtax Credit Union, 1971 [AMH Collection]
Pat Mullins (left) providing financial advice and guidance to Mr & Mrs Wilde who both worked in the Assessing Section of the tax office, early 1970s [AMH Collection]
A member is served by Tonya Fox with Dianne Holmes at her desk, early 1970s [AMH Collection]
Comtax Credit Union sponsored women’s touch football team, 1983 [AMH Collection]
Pauline Davis (left) & Tonya Fox (right) at the Comtax CU office in Market St, Sydney, 1986 [AMH Collection]
Comtax Credit Union office, Parramatta, 1992 [AMH Collection]
John Parsons farewells Pat Martin after 20 years of service as a Director, 1997 [AMH Collection]

CSIRO Co-operative Credit Society Limited

Amanda Barber, Senior Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

Trademark registered in 1994 by CSIRO Co-operative Credit Society

The CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) Co-operative Credit Society Limited was registered in Victoria on 19 September 1957.

Interest in establishing a credit union in the Melbourne offices of the CSIRO had been piqued by the 1954 establishment of the Laboratories Credit Union by Sydney based CSIRO staff. The impetus to start a Victorian based credit union had strong support from senior CSIRO personnel (including Sir Ian Clunies Ross, the CSIRO chair at the time) and also the Victorian Branch of the CSIRO Officers’ Association.

Two board meetings were held in early September 1957 and appointments were made to the roles of Chairman (Walter Ives), Secretary (Ivan Carrucan) and Treasurer (Jack Bourne). The first 40 members were admitted on 15 October 1957. The initial membership bond was limited to officers and employees of CSIRO aged over 18 years.

The credit society steadily grew and by the end of 1966 it had over 1770 members and more than $950,000 in deposits.  In 1966 Joel Belkin was appointed the first full-time general manager (a role he held from 1966 until 1981). In 1968 payroll deductions were introduced and this streamlined the repayments of loans by members.

In 1982 the credit society joined the Victorian Credit Co-operatives Association (VCCA), which was the peak body for over 140 Victorian based credit unions.

Following a period of negotiation, the Board of the Canberra based Laboratories Co-operative Credit Union Limited agreed to amalgamation with the CSIRO Co-operative Credit Society Limited. The amalgamation occurred on 26 January 1986.

CSIRO Co-operative Credit Society first used the name Sirocredit for marketing and branding in 1986. Sirocredit continued to grow and by 1988 it had more than $47 million in total assets and served more than 7,500 members throughout Australia. In 1994 a new logo and trademark was registered for Sirocredit (see image above).

Helen Kenna was appointed as a Director in 1985 and was the first woman on the Board

In 1997, Sirocredit celebrated its 40th anniversary by commissioning an in-depth history entitled Sirocredit: The First 40 Years, 1957-1997, by Brian Carroll. The foundation chair Walter Ives wrote in the book’s foreword that “We saw the Society as a means of channelling resources, mostly from older officers, with money to invest, to younger officers, facing the usual stresses of proving for a family.”

The next two decades saw considerable change for the organisation. On 1 July 1998, Sirocredit merged with Enterprise Credit Union Limited and Outlook Credit Union Co-operative Limited to form Members Australia Credit Union Limited. In 2003 Members Australia Credit Union merged with Education Credit Union to form Members and Education Credit Union (mecu). In 2011 mecu began trading as bankmecu and in 2015 it commenced trading as Bank Australia.

The Fijian Credit Union Movement

Ben Woods, Assistant Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

Fijian credit union staff at work in office, ca 1960s [AMH Collection]

The Credit Union Movement in Fiji began in the mid-20th Century around the same time that the Movements in Australia and New Zealand were taking off. They really got moving quickly too thanks to the help of representatives from the NSW Credit Union League (NSWCUL) and a tireless credit union advocate named Father Marion Ganey.  With their help by 1969 there were 288 credit unions operating in Fiji.

After the Second World War, Fiji was under pressure to develop into a modern industrial economy. For the average Fijian this required more and better schooling as well as financial literacy. Credit unions allowed average Fijians to build their own wealth and control it on their terms. There were some cultural barriers to this that are discussed in a reference book in our collection, Credit Unions in the South Pacific (1969).

Potential obstacles were the principles of Chiefly Authority and Kinship. Whatever the broader ethical dilemmas involving “the Westernisation” of Fiji, it is clear credit unions have a particular structure that must be followed if they are going to succeed.

On this topic in Credit Unions in the South Pacific, G.A. Arbuckle noted that:

Credit unions insist on the democratic principle. Only those officers should be elected who have ability. Therefore, Chiefs, or those of ascribed status who have not the necessary qualifications should not be elected. Co-operatives in Fiji had suffered much in the early years from the failure to insist on the principle of democracy. But credit unions have in fact been little troubled by this problem. Father Ganey insisted, from the very beginning, on the principle of democracy within credit unions … The Credit Union League officials asserted that they could not think of any chief (of whatever status) who had been elected on to the board of directors of any credit union. There may have been one or two cases, they said, but such examples would be too rare to notice immediately.

The Catholic Weekly wrote of Father Ganey’s work in an article on November 10, 1960 titled, “Noted Success Of Fijian Credit Unions Due to Jesuit”. It observed that, “In the St. Joseph Credit Union, two houses were financed and built by credit union loans”. This was a huge achievement in Fiji in 1960.

An article in the Zealandia of 21 August 1958 described the awe of “Keith Young, a credit union expert from Sydney”, traveling with Father Ganey in Fiji near a Village when passing “a Fijian riding a bicycle Father Ganey stopped the car and called out, ‘Is that a credit union bicycle?’ The Fijian called back, ‘Aye, Father’”. Elsewhere the article notes that Mr Young was struck by the Fijians’, “meticulous care and neatness in keeping the credit union books, with their enthusiasm for the credit union and with the way they have absorbed it into their daily life”.

Father Ganey (far left) and Dermot Ryan (centre) of NSWCUL with recruits to the Fijian Credit Union Movement, 1969 [AMH Collection]

Father Ganey wrote of his approach to credit union development in Fiji as one that is “anti-paternalistic”. Credit unions and other financial mutuals are vessels for mutual self-help as opposed to individualism, collectivism or indeed charity. That is their strength. Father Ganey wrote:

To young missionaries who get into this work, I would say that they’ll never do very much in this field until they realise that they are not doing the people the favour by going to them; it is the people who do us missionaries the favour by opening the door of their village to us.

We are not the people’s boss; we are their servant. We cannot make the credit union, the co-operative, the new social way of life work; we can only point the way.

G.A. Arbuckle wrote that credit unions in Fiji gave people confidence to participate in “modern life” successfully. “People who for years have been hesitant to take the initiative in economic and social life because they felt others did not trust them to act responsibly, have discovered in credit unions an atmosphere of trust”, wrote Arbuckle.

Unfortunately, after the passing of Father Ganey the credit union movement in Fiji has struggled. According to the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) Statistical Report of 2019, there are only 4 credit unions still operating there, serving 1,920 members.

Ian MacPherson wrote that Father Ganey “cast a long shadow that made it difficult for a new generation of credit union leaders to develop”. A major drought and a military coup in the 1980s made economic life difficult for all Fijians.

According to MacPherson, while many credit unions have gone by the wayside in Fiji, the Police and Prisons Credit Union played an important role in stabilising the economy during the multiple crises of the 80s. Furthermore, the Fijian movement is still overseen by the Oceania Confederation of Credit Union Leagues and remains an entrenched part of life in Fiji.

Father Ganey (third from front-left) at first session of school in Credit Union Leadership, Bergengren School of Credit Unions in South Pacific, 1965 [AMH Collection]

Joanne O’Donnell: From London to LCU

Ben Woods, Assistant Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

Joanne O’Donnell in her role as General Manager of Comtax Credit Union, 2002 [AHM Collection]

Joanne O’Donnell works as the Risk and Compliance Officer with Laboratories Credit Union (LCU) based in North Ryde, NSW. Such a job did not exist when Joanne began her credit union career with Universities Credit Union in 1989. In those days, Joanne says, regulatory reports took up two pages annually, now they are expected to file a 130 page report per quarter. Although she understands the need for regulation, she feels that in a perfect world, all that time could be better spent serving the members.

Joanne was born in London and her first job after leaving school was at the famous Barclays bank when she says she “was frog marched down there by the Maths teacher when she decided to leave school early”. 

From retail banking with Barclays, she ended up in merchant banking at Sumitomo Bank for six years, Joanne said:

It was an interesting experience before computerisation, we stayed back until 3 o’clock in the morning until the telexes came in from Japan and America. We could then close the books. That would be every 6 months. We would have a limousine waiting outside to take us all home. The heady days of the 80s ended. When I left that job, I escaped the golden handcuffs to see the world. Sumitomo treated their staff very well.

Joanne’s connection to Australia arose when she met her husband here on her travels. Eventually settling in Australia, she took up work with NAB and then Universities Credit Union in 1989. Of this switch Joanne told us:

I worked for the NAB for about one year. Then I saw a job advertised at a credit union. I had never even heard of credit unions before. I applied for the job as a part time Members Services Officer with Universities Credit Union and that began a life-times attachment to the credit union movement.

We were based at UNSW and there was a couple of branches at other NSW Universities. I was at one of the branches, initially. When a full-time job opportunity arose, I applied for it and eventually became the Assistant Accountant. I worked there right through to October 1993.

From there Joanne took on a more senior role in what today would be considered a very small mutual indeed. From October 1993 to July 1999, Joanne was the Secretary Manager (i.e. CEO) of Waverley Bus Depot Employees Credit Union.

As the name suggests, Waverley Bus Depot Employees Credit Union began in 1966 to meet the needs of the workers at Waverley Bus Depot in Sydney. By the time of Joanne’s leadership in 1993, modernisation was fast catching up with it. To illustrate this, Joanne said:

I’ll tell you a little story. Back in those days if the members wanted their Tax File Number, they’d come to the credit union because we kept them all in a notebook in the safe. I came along and said you can’t do that. I was a bit of a new broom that cleaned out some of these old traditions. I might not have been loved for that but it was just to make sure that the credit union remained compliant.

Nevertheless, Joanne loved her time there. It was “a real old fashioned credit union”, said Joanne. “You knew all the members. Literally. The drivers were fantastic. You knew their families, you knew their wives and you knew their children. You knew when their birthdays and anniversaries were”, she said.

Waverley Bus Depot Employees Credit Union transferred engagements to Encompass Credit Union in 2000 and a year before the merger, Joanne took a step up and became General Manager of Comtax Credit Union. Comtax Credit Union was formed from the merger of Fourth Division Taxation Officers Credit Union Co-operative and Income Tax Officers Credit Union in 1971. Again, as the name suggests, Comtax CU looked after the needs of tax office workers and their families.

Joanne O’Donnell at Sydney Olympic Stadium in August, 2000 [AMH Collection]

Comtax CU and Security Credit Union merged in 2008 and eventually the merged entity, Allied Members Credit Union was absorbed by Sydney Credit Union in 2014. Joanne left Sydney Credit Union in 2015 in order to take up her current position with LCU, a less taxing role.

Joanne says that Comtax CU tried to implement measures for it to continue to run successfully but eventually, “the regulations had changed. It was becoming harder and harder”. As was the case with Waverley Bus Depot Employees Credit Union, merging was inevitable, the “writing was on the wall”, said Joanne.

In time, Joanne has come to see herself as “a credit union person” and is thankful that she found credit unions. She told us that:

I’ve always believed in helping other people. At the banks you had to sell to people. The idea was that there has to be a profit at the end of the day. The motto of the credit unions was “People Before Profit”. In other words you were there to try and help people. I think that was the most important difference between credit unions and banks you weren’t just there to make a dollar from your members.

In addition to her role with LCU, last year Joanne joined the Australian Credit Union Archives Trust, overseeing the work of Australian Mutuals History. On our work Joanne says:

I think history is always very important. From a personal point of view I find history fascinating but you’ve got to know where you’ve come from. If you don’t look at history, you risk repeating your mistakes.

If people look at what happened in the past it could stop them making the same mistakes in the future. In 50 years from now people wouldn’t know that there were about 700 credit unions. There’s only 60 odd now. The future is unknown. All those little credit unions were there because the banks wouldn’t lend to ordinary working people, especially women who couldn’t obtain loans at all without a man as guarantor. The banks wouldn’t help the mums and dads. It was people coming together in all those small credit unions that helped.

If the major banks were to stop lending money to people tomorrow, where would people go if there were no credit unions, building societies or mutual banks?

Interview: Mark Genovese – Mutuals in the Blood

Ben Woods, Assistant Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

Mark Genovese at COBA 2019 [AMH Collection]

Mark Genovese left financial mutuals last year after an illustrious career spanning almost 40 years. Mark says he “must’ve worked for more credit unions than anyone else”, but highlights include working with CUSCAL’s CreditCare and CUFA as well as steering the ship of Unity Bank as CEO for 18 years. Mark was also a Trustee overseeing the work of Australian Mutuals History. Today, he is the CEO of Westfund, a member owned health fund with its origins in Lithgow, NSW, in 1881. Mark told us that, “I came to work here at Westfund because it’s a member owned mutual and it’s exactly the same principal [as customer owned banks]. I would find it impossible working at places that don’t have those values”.

The Genovese name is legendary in Australian financial mutuals thanks not only to Mark but also to his father. Alex Genovese arrived with his family from Malta when he was still a school student. He worked for the Department of Motor Transport for 15 years where he was introduced to credit unions. He would eventually take the helm at Bankstown Credit Union, an organisation that today falls under the Unity Bank group that was put together under his son’s watch.

Mark’s inherited understanding of credit union principles would hold him in good stead but his father’s influence gave him the finance bug more broadly. “It all started with my dad when I was five or six years old. He would take me to the credit union office at Bankstown and I remember at weekends counting money boxes because dad used to go in and work on weekends”, said Mark.

However, his first job wasn’t in credit unions. He told us that:

In actual fact my first job wasn’t in the credit union industry, I worked at an insurance company and then I worked in an accounts department of a manufacturing company.

So, I got a bit of a taste for administrative accounting type work which I enjoyed and decided to look for accounting qualifications. Then an opportunity came up at a credit union at North Ryde, called Amalgamated Credit Union – which was the old AWA Credit Union. I went on there as a Loans Clerk. That was my first job, in probably, 1981.

Life in credit unions in 1981 was much different than it is today. Mark says his position as Loans Clerk involved, “Everything back in those days. We probably had a staff of six, I was serving on the counter, doing the statement runs at the end of the month [which involved] sitting up all night waiting for the statements to come up, making sure that they didn’t get blocked in the machine”.

The next era of Mark’s career involved moving around a lot. Something that he says was necessary for career progression among credit unions that were very small. His big break was gaining the role of CEO of Esso Employees Credit Union. Of his time at Esso, Mark said:

That was a great experience for me because they had some senior, very capable, professional people sitting around their board. The company saw it very much as part of the organisation and so it was a bit of training and mentoring for their senior executives, to come on a board and act as directors.

It was a real eye opener for me. It gave me a good insight into what you need to do to aspire to those sorts of senior roles and I got to mix with senior people who had international roles working for Esso which was great.

An example of how important Esso regarded the credit union was that when the company moved its headquarters to Melbourne it offered to pay generous compensation to credit union employees who undertook the move to Melbourne with equally generous redundancies for those who wished to leave. The new premises in Melbourne and all ongoing credit union salaries were all provided for by Esso. The credit union membership was spared the expense. Also, as CEO of the Esso Credit Union, Mark was given the use of the company jet for visits to the Sale office which looked after the financial needs of employees on offshore oil rigs.

After Esso, Mark worked for a short time with City Coast Credit Union and Comtax Credit Union before joining CUSCAL as part of their CreditCare initiative in the mid-1990s. CreditCare was created after the federal government came under pressure when a swathe of bank branch closures in regional Australia had significant economic and social impacts, especially in the indigenous community where there was already financial distress.

Here are Mark’s reflections on his time with CreditCare:

CUSCAL came to me and said Mark would you like to take on this role to sort of run this program but also we want to look to start some new credit unions again because we haven’t started any credit unions in 30 years and we really think there’s a demand for new credit unions and we’d like you to help out.

I thought, yeah great, I’ll have to take on this role. We recruited a team of about 12 people, 2 were indigenous people.

We got federal government funding for 5 years and NSW government funding for 3 years and our job was to go out and basically work with communities that lost their last bank. I think we ended up helping 68 communities throughout Australia, mostly on the Eastern seaboard, but we did help communities in SA and WA as well.

Basically, the model that we came up with was a collaborative approach where we’d work with the local credit unions and government agencies [who would join in] putting services back into communities in a sort of one-stop-shop.

We also started a number of credit unions, such as First Nations Credit Union with Advantage Credit Union where we actually got Cathy Freeman to agree to be on the member’s visa card.

That was using what they called the incubator model, so it sat within the credit union. We were working with all sorts of communities, we were working with the Shooters Association, the Gay and Lesbian community, the Muslim community. There were a lot of groups that were keen to consider credit union services, so we did a lot of work around that and if we didn’t start them we obviously encouraged them to join and build associations with credit unions.

Mark working for CreditCare in the 1990s [AMH Collection]

Mark also worked with CUFA and by extension WOCCU which saw him visiting Nicaragua and on a study tour to Texas he found himself in a RV that served as a mobile branch that included a portable ATM.

When the CreditCare program was wound down after much of the work of keeping branches in the regions was completed, Mark worked with CUSCAL on the payments side of things. That wasn’t what he wanted to do long term so he took on the role of CEO at Maritime Workers of Australia Credit Union, finishing up there last year. Here is Mark on those years:

I worked there for 18 years and we had 9 mergers over that period of time. I think we merged with more credit unions than any other credit union in the country and they were all very successful. We obviously changed our name a couple of times –we were Maritime Credit Union, then we changed to Mining and Power Credit Union because we merged with Power Credit Union and we also expanded ourselves into the mining industry.

We kept that name for a while and then the bank [name] issue came up and we needed to look at changing our name and we ended up going with Unity Bank. The Reliance one was a big merger as well, because then we became a regionally based credit union and so all of a sudden from being industrial and city focused we became very much a regional one as well, with a different brand, which is the Reliance Bank brand now.

During the discussion with Mark I mentioned that I had seen an interview with the CEO of Heritage Bank, Peter Lock, where he said he thought that branch closures were “bad strategy” and that Heritage Bank had in fact recently opened new branches. Mark agreed and offered some thoughts on how branches might operate in the future. He said that:

One size doesn’t fit all but there’s a fair rump of the community who, when it comes to a serious transaction, like a home loan, still want to physically talk to someone. It’s one of the biggest decisions people make.

It’s true that the days of having a queue of people waiting to withdraw $20 is over but what these branches are is that they’re really like a social hub, a connector where you connect your organisation with the community and especially in regional and rural areas, it’s critical because that’s how they connect, they still like to see people, they still like to interact face to face and all the rest of it.

I think for a lot of mutuals that face to face touch, no matter what form it takes, whether it’s a branch or whether it’s a mobile lender or whatever it might be, that’s something that’s unique to the credit union sector. I mean in our branches here in the health fund, because a lot of people are doing claims over the internet, we’re looking at turning them into health hubs so people can come in, access modern technology and talk to a allied health person about whatever it might be, so we’re going to change what that physical presence does but it’s still going to be there. There’s no thought of us closing these branches it’s just re-designing and repurposing them.

In fact in Mark’s opinion, community connection, which may include physical branches is essential to the ongoing success of financial mutuals. “I think for a lot of them, the ones that are going to succeed, there is always going to be an exception to the rule, but I think generally, that’s how mutuals are going to have to operate. They’re still going to have to have a physical presence in those industries or communities they serve. If they just rely on everything being online and over the phone, well good luck, where’s the connection? No one is going to build a relationship through that”, said Mark.

CreditCare and Queensland Teachers’ Credit Union open a much needed branch in Surat, Qld, 1996 [AMH Collection]

A Wee Look at Kiwi Credit Unions

Ben Woods, Assistant Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

The New Zealand flag proudly on display at the Australasian Institute of Credit Union Directors Convention in 1998 [AMH Collection]

We recently shared with you a brief history of credit unions in Hong Kong. It was prompted by coming across mentions of the Hong Kong Credit Union Movement in our collection. We hold material that touches on credit unions from the entire globe but as we’re in the Oceania region the Australian movement has mostly partnered with countries in our vicinity.

Indeed, Australians established the South Pacific Association of Credit Union Leagues in 1967 which was a consortium of the credit union leagues of Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Fiji and other Pacific Islands that operated credit unions. Later the Oceania Confederation of Credit Union Leagues was established.

Australian credit unions have worked with the New Zealand movement for a long time as is evidenced by many items in our collection including photographs of Australasian Institute of Credit Union Directors (AICUD) sessions held ‘’across the ditch”.

New Zealand and Australia have similar “developmental” histories with similar cultures and politics. It is no surprise then that credit unions began in New Zealand in the aftermath of the Great Depression and WWII as they did in Australia.

The first “official” credit union in New Zealand was St Mary’s Credit Union (Hamilton) in 1955. As the name suggests, it came out of a Catholic Parish. Catholic Parishes were strong drivers of credit union formation in Australia and in the South Pacific more broadly.

The person most directly responsible for the creation of St Mary’s Credit Union (Hamilton) was a man by the name of Tom Mitchell who according to Gordon McLaughlan’s history of credit unions in New Zealand was, “Catholic with a developed sense of community, [and] like many of his generation, suspicious and resentful of what he regarded as a concentration of financial power in the hands of too few people”.

McLaughlan goes on to write that:

Mitchell was a parishioner of St Mary’s Catholic Church in Hamilton and his search for information and background on credit unions led him to a Jesuit priest, Father Marion Ganey, a man who had spent ten years from 1943 organising credit unions in Central America. His work had so impressed the Governor of British Honduras, Sir Derek Jakeway, that he sought Father Ganey’s transfer to Fiji following his appointment as governor there. During the 1950s and early 1960s, Ganey had the same success in the South Pacific, helping to form 250 credit unions in Fiji.

A book in our reference collection titled, Credit Unions In the South Pacific (1969), echoes what McLaughlan writes on the importance that Friendly Societies played in the New Zealand Credit Union Movement. The author on the chapter on New Zealand notes that “New Zealand credit union development has actually proceeded through four stages: a) the money clubs; b) friendly societies extending to their members credit union facilities; c) the formation of ‘independent’ credit unions; and, d) League formation and the foundation of a New Zealand Credit Union Movement”.

On 7 August 1885, the Sydneyham and Suburban Co-operative Money club was registered. New Zealand friendly societies began credit unions under the guidance of CUNA in the USA in the 1940s. The Ancient Order of Foresters’ Friendly Society wrote to CUNA in 1943 expressing interest in forming a credit union.

However, the Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows got in first and registered their credit union in May 1943. It had a membership of 493 after the first year out of a friendly society of 25,000 members.

After St Mary’s Credit Union got up and running in Hamilton, there was interest in the Maori community but progress was slow. Other early Parish based credit unions were St Joseph’s (Matata) Credit Union in the Bay of Plenty and St Joseph’s (Wellington) Credit Union. The latter was registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act.

Father Ganey, who was mentioned earlier, was invited to New Zealand by St Mary’s Credit Union to undertake the important mission of starting the New Zealand Credit Union League, which was incorporated in 1962. The League was vital in giving new credit union Directors the tools to create and make a success of their credit union. This included education on the principles and practicalities of running a credit union, banking facilities, assistance with marketing and equipment and more.

“The Kiwi Contingent” at the Australasian Institute of Credit Union Directors Convention in 1998 [AMH Collection]

By 1967, 24 credit unions were affiliated with the League out of a total of 26 credit unions in New Zealand. Of these, 8 were Parish based, 10 were community based and 10 were industrial or employee credit unions.

Credit Unions In the South Pacific details the structure of credit unions in New Zealand in the first 20 years of the movement:

The structure of New Zealand credit unions closely follows the USA pattern. The credit unions do not attract taxation but dividends to members are taxable in the hands of the recipient. All contributions are treated as shares with no specified capital contribution other than the $2 for a share required to be paid to qualify as a voting member. Bank borrowing is available but is used to provide liquidity to level out peaks in cash flows. Provision is made for accepting deposits but the League recommends that the credit unions refrain from using this facility unless a change in tax structure requires a change. An entrance fee is generally charged, but it does not exceed 50 cents per member.

Ten per cent of the gross income is generally allocated as a reserve for delinquent loans and the maximum interest rate of 1 per cent per month, which is specified in the rules, is inclusive of the costs of making the loan. These costs, mainly legal, are often substantial as every loan over $100 must be secured by law.

According to the World Council of Credit Union’s (WOCCU) Statistical Report of 2019, there are only 8 credit unions left in New Zealand with 154,000 members. As in Australia, there have been many mergers over the years due to a combination of regulation and a belief that the economies of scale achieved by combining resources in a larger entity will allow the merged entity to continue to prosper.

Alexander Sibbald and Lynn McAlevey writing in Applied Economics in 2003 had this to say about the above phenomenon:

While clear efficiency improvement occurred in moving from small to medium sized organisations, less compelling was the evidence of economies of scale in larger credit unions …

Growth for the sake of growth could be seen to sail close to strategies adopted by banks through rationalization, resulting in the closing down of branches, which is a particular problem in rural New Zealand. So credit union directors and industry leaders have to decide if they want to trade off closeness to the membership in the pursuit of doubtful cost efficiencies. However, given the increasing compliance costs, and regulator pressures, they may be forced to seek rationalization, whether or not operational efficiencies occur, as a result of this action. On the other hand, economies of scope maybe present, in terms of the products and services offered to members.

Betty Shearman – credit for teachers

Amanda Barber, Senior Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

Former Teachers Credit Union logo

Betty Shearman (6th July 1921 – 10th February 2021) was a founding director of the NSW Teachers Credit Union (now the Teachers Mutual Bank).

Born Betty Leeson in July 1921 in Coraki, she grew up on the north coast of NSW. Betty attended Armidale Teachers Collage and spent her working career as a teacher, principal and school inspector. She married Alan Shearman, who was also a teacher.

Whilst working at Hornsby Heights Public School, Betty heard about and became interested in the credit union movement.

The Hornsby Teachers Association Credit Union was formed on 27 September 1966 but in 1967 it changed its name to the NSW Teachers Credit Union, which broadened the membership base. The founding board members were Joseph Stone, Betty Shearman, Bryan Priest, Colin Thomson, Vernon Wildy, Cecil Norgate, Douglas Wale, Bob Dobson, and Dennis Stewart. Betty Shearman later became the Chair for a period.

In Memories and Recollections (published by Australian Credit Union Archives in 2002) Betty Shearman recalls the early days of the NSW Teachers Credit Union.

“I was one of the original group which planned and achieved the setting up of the NSW Teachers Credit Union. I remember early meetings in a cafe, a hotel, a tennis shed. I felt we were a little “bulldozed” the night we signed the dotted line but I knew it was the right way to go.”

Betty further stated “I regard this as one of my achievements in assisting this to come about and grow into an organisation that has meant so much to teachers in the country as well as the city.”

Betty had a life dedicated to education and some of her various roles included: Principal, 1941-45, 1952-81; Publicity Officer, Teachers’ Federation Principals’ Association; Committee Member Primary Principals’ Council; and NSW Representative to the Inaugural National Primary Principals’ Council.

Betty Shearman was 99 years old when she died in February 2021.

1970 advertisement in Education: journal of the N.S.W Teachers Federation.

Lysaght Credit Union History Preserved

Ben Woods, Assistant Archivist, Australian Mutuals History

David Morgan (left) of Horizon Bank and Ben Woods hold displays of historical Lysaght Credit Union documents and photos

A few months ago Australian Mutuals History reached out to Lysaght Credit Union before they formally merged with Horizon Bank in April of this year. This was to see if they had any business documents, reports, newsletters, photos or objects that might be useful in our collection for use by researchers or members of the public. The merging of credit unions and mutual banks (a regular occurrence) is the chief way that we source key business records.

David Morgan, formally of Lysaght Credit Union and now Information Systems Manager of Horizon Bank, invited me down to the Lysaght CU HQ in order to meet with former Lysaght General Manager Paul Dwyer (now Horizon Bank Deputy CEO) and Horizon Bank Marketing Manager Kim Morris.

The trio guided me through the Lysaght records and objects that they were holding in order for me to ascertain what would be useful for us to collect. We already held a substantial cache of Lysaght records (a full run of annual reports, early correspondence, some AGM minutes) but they did indeed have much that I took with me back to the archives for preservation.

Added to our collection were four hefty volumes recording Board meeting minutes and other business papers from 1991-1997, an AGM attendance book recording the signatures of AGM attendees from 1973-August 2020, newsletters from 1967-2001, correspondence, photographs and other items.

Paul Dwyer and Ben Woods

Lysaght Employees (Port Kembla) Credit Union Limited was registered on 20th April 1966. The Lysaght steel products business has been a subsidiary of BHP since 1979. However, the Lysaght name has been active in Australia for 100 years and has its origins with John Lysaght’s galvanising business in Bristol, England, which began in 1857.

As the name suggests, employees of Lysaght steelworks in Port Kembla began the credit union and it continued on its merry way, changing its name to Lysaght Credit Union in 1997, until joining the Horizon Bank team in April.

As the merger took place Lysaght Credit Union Chairman Viktor Tomeski said:

“Lysaght Credit Union has been an integral part of the South Coast and BlueScope (Springhill works) community for over 50 years and we want to ensure that our members have another 50 years to look forward to. That is not realistic in the face of rising costs, decreasing margins, and the required investment in technology and compliance. Therefore, exploring merger opportunities has been a part of the Lysaght Credit Union board’s strategic planning over the past 12 months.

Partnering with Horizon Bank gives us the opportunity to share the best of each other’s products, services and systems, while retaining our focus on providing trusted service to our local members.”

We really appreciate the efforts of Horizon Bank to ensure that its valuable history (and the history of Lysaght Credit Union) will be preserved by Australian Mutuals History for future generations.