Gerringong community rallies for own bank

Working to bring a bank back to Gerringong: Sandra McCarthy, Shane Douglas and Leanne Mitchell

As of January 31, Gerringong has no bank branch to service its community.

But the closure of the ANZ Bank may have a silver lining, according to those who support the opening of a Bendigo Bank branch in the town.

Having first considered the easier option of opening a banking operation as a sub-branch of the established Oak Flats branch, momentum has grown to work towards opening a stand-alone Gerringong branch.

To do so will require the community pledging to invest $600,000 to $800,000 in capital to fund the new operation.

“The closure of the ANZ is no indicator of the financial health of our community,” says Shane Douglas, General Manager of the Park Ridge Retreat and a Director of the Kiama & District Business Chamber.

“It is a head office strategy to reduce their number of branches, no matter the impact.

“Bendigo Bank is a community bank, with 80 per cent of each branch’s profits going back into the community.”

As an example, he says that in the last financial year the Oak Flats branch made a profit of $650,000, and 80 per cent of that figure went back into community projects. The remaining profit went to shareholders of the branch and the listed entity.

At a packed community meeting in mid-December, a representative of the bank outlined its well established business models for opening a new operation.

“After the meeting, people who operate the big businesses and clubs in town came up and told me they were fully behind it and didn’t see an issue in raising the capital needed to be a standalone operation,” says Mr Douglas.

“We are also confident that many individuals will want to pledge what money they can to get a bank back in town and support the profits going back into the community.”

Once open, locals will be encouraged to move their accounts to the full service bank so that their transactions can start generating the profit for the community.

Kiama Council has indicated its willingness to help with the initiative, as has the Kiama & District Business Chamber.

A Steering Committee (with initial members – Shane Douglas, Emeritus Mayor and President of the Gerringong Bowling Club Sandra McCarthy and Leanne Mitchell from Numbers Count) has been formed as a first step.

They are meeting with representatives of Bendigo Bank next week to go through the detail of the process that needs to be undertaken.

“The bank has built financial models from past experience to crunch through the numbers in our business plan,” says Mr Douglas.

“It is vital for the town to have a bank, not only from a financial point of view but for the social fabric of the town,” says Mrs McCarthy.

“With the profits returning to the community, I see it as a win:win opportunity.”

Leanne Mitchell says that businesses in the town are going to be very inconvenienced by having to go into Kiama to make their deposits now the ANZ has closed.

“I know local businesses are very supportive of the idea of setting up a branch here.”

In addition, she believes the bank’s willingness to do school banking and provide a visiting service to Mayflower will be embraced by the community.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, next week’s meeting should see the beginning of concrete action to get a stand-alone branch up and running.

“We are going to need a great number of volunteers to help with everything from being on the Steering Committee to collecting and processing the pledges,” says Mr Douglas.

Longer term he sees the potential for the Gerringong branch to open sub-branches in nearby areas, including Kiama.

Details: Anyone wishing to support the initiative should leave their details with Numbers Count on 4234 0902


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