Building Better Communities
The role of our bank is to feed into prosperity, not off it
Bendigo and Adelaide Bank is often lauded for its "social responsibility" because of our work with communities – almost as if we have tacked a social conscience on to our business strategy. In fact, working for the benefit of our customers and their communities is our business strategy.
It makes sense: you cannot run a successful business in an unsuccessful community. Therefore, if we can help them prosper, then we will have strengthened our markets. And if Bendigo and Adelaide Bank is an essential part of the community fabric, then we are more likely to be supported and to build a sustainable business.
Our approach begins with listening. How do local leaders see their community growing? What are their problems? Can Bendigo and Adelaide Bank help them address these threats and opportunities?
Often we can do so by finding ways to secure banking access. But increasingly we are finding other ways to help, too.
We have been able to build a number of successful business models built on simple methods - encourage local people to commit to buying their services through a company committed to retaining at least some of its earnings in their community.
For example, all people buy telephony, but probably from a number of different suppliers. But if enough people choose to buy from a locally owned telephone company, a Community Telco, then the dynamics change. That company employs locals and retains local earnings. Competitors have to improve services or reduce prices to compete. Both ways, the community wins. And Bendigo and Adelaide Bank wins, too, because there is more money - and therefore more available banking - in the local community.
Telephony is but one example: other communities will have other priorities.
But we add more than just commercial business sense. Through a program we underwrite, called Lead On, we are also helping communities engage better with their local youth. Why? Because it provides young people with valuable exposure to the workings of community and because it broadens the skills and participation communities can bring to issues.
Helping communities to address environmental sustainability is another area of interest to us (for obvious reasons ... you can only run a sustainable business in a sustainable community).
In early 2005, we also launched Bendigo and Adelaide Bank's charitable arm, Community Enterprise Foundation. The Foundation creates a pool of money that is put towards working to build stronger Australian communities through funding programs for families, youth, health, education, the environment, the arts and lots more.
We do this by collecting donations in a tax-effective way from individuals, businesses and governments. Bendigo and Adelaide Bank and the Foundation's own trustee, Sandhurst Trustees, are two companies which have already committed to make ongoing donations. The Foundation boasts a unique structure which enables donors to gift within their own community, with the trustees distributing money in consultation with community leaders.
None of these initiatives are easy, but most communities have the capacity to influence them from within and we can help. In the late 1990s, few people thought local communities could influence banks – now they are running successful branches that are contributing many hundreds of thousands of dollars into building better communities. If it can be done for banking, it can be done in other areas and we are developing ways to make it happen. Our efforts are not just concentrated on communities with Community Bank® branches. Towns and suburbs hosting our proprietary branches also participate in our community business models.
Our initiatives are important for communities, and for us, because:
- They have stamped us as a unique bank, increasing public awareness and support.
- They will help strengthen the markets in which we operate (our communities).
- They will help us build customer loyalty.
- They have every prospect of being strong businesses in their own right.
Bendigo and Adelaide Bank will continue to develop its current programs and look to introduce new initiatives that can benefit the wider community. To date, these innovations have included Community Bank®; Community Sector Banking, to improve services and return on capital for the not-for-profit sector; telecommunications and the Lead On youth development program.
Our expertise is financial services, and that is our focus, but we bring another strength critical to the success of these ventures – the trust of communities in our ability to deliver solutions to the mutual benefit of both parties.