Regional Australia Bank was founded right here in Armidale in 1969 and has been going from strength to strength ever since. We sit down with Kevin Dupé, Regional Australia Bank’s CEO, to find out how the customer-owned bank has grown from a single branch with a few customers to one of Australia’s preferred financial providers.
You’ve recently changed your name from “New England Mutual” to “Regional Australia Bank”. Can you tell us about this transition?
Sure. After conducting research, we found the term “mutual” was not commonly understood by the majority of people who are not currently customers. These people also felt that we offered a limited product range and service, when the real truth is we offer everything from savings accounts to home and commercial loans. Yet because of our name, most of these people didn’t understand what we did or what we stood for.
Regional Australia; that’s pretty big, right?
Yes; however, in this day and age our digital presence (internet and mobile apps) also means we have customers all throughout Australia, and our name needed to reflect that. Again, many people may not be aware that our customers can make withdrawals from over 2,900 ATMs nationwide, including: Westpac, Bank of Melbourne, St George and Bank of South Australia, without incurring any direct charging fees.
So, should Armidale be proud of Regional Australia Bank?
We think so; however, that’s up to them, really. We are one of the largest employers in the town outside of the Council and UNE, so that’s certainly a good thing for the local economy. Further, many people don’t know that we are a financial institution that manages over 1.2 billion dollars in assets, and the head office is located right here. We have offices from the coast to Cobar, from the Queensland boarder to Sydney, where we operate our very own treasury. There are very few banks that base their head office in regional Australia; in fact, I can think of only four others off the top of my head, and all of these are customer owned banks like us.
But to us, Regional Australia Bank is more than just geography; it’s a proposition.
What do you mean by proposition?
We’re focused strongly on everything that makes living in regional Australia better value for money, such as: more time, less congestion, local connection and concern for communities – and we are applying this to banking. We’re providing a new standard of banking to the tens of thousands of regional Australians who’ve chosen us to help them with everything from competitive interest rates to fairer fees and most importantly, being able to make complex financial solutions simple. We’re all about forging solid financial relationships, be they individual or business – and it’s this sort of value for money that is seldom replicated by some of the nation’s larger retail banks.
What makes you different from the “Big Four” banks?
The big banks are generally like the places they cater to – big cities. They’re often tricky to navigate, impersonal and too busy to offer the level of service and personal attention we’d like. What do I mean by attention?
Well, most people rely on their banks to efficiently support those day-to-day requirements, whether it’s withdrawing and depositing cash, transferring money or paying bills via the net or a mobile device. And why wouldn’t they? After all, these are the things we do almost automatically, without a second thought – and this is how it should be for activities that are more “transactional” in nature, and it’s why we too provide these kinds of services.
But what happens if we have a problem, need guidance, or want to talk to someone about that next big purchase, such as a house, a business loan or investment purchase? In those instances, being treated like you are a transaction rather than a person is a less than satisfactory experience – and it’s a major issue for the “Big Four” banks and many other institutions like them.
A regional approach to banking is about ditching the loan approval queues, the confusion and impersonal service, in favour of accessibility, clarity, and fast decision-making. It’s about tackling the problems you might be finding complex and making them simple and easy to understand. It’s about not having to endlessly repeat your story, your situation, your dreams and your aspirations to numerous people who don’t know who you are or what you are about. It’s about ensuring the person you speak to is the same person who can sign off on the approval for your loan on the ground, without having to go through a processing centre. Not even a mortgage broker can do that!
Will you still give back to our community?
Yes. There’s no denying there’s a tangible community spirit underpinning the economic prosperity and quality of life here in regional Australia. That’s why our banking comes packaged with a conscience. Our customers know that almost one million dollars every year is given back to our local communities in the form of sponsorships, donations, grass roots community initiatives and small infrastructure projects, which help our communities thrive and create more enjoyable places to live. After all, it’s the opportunity to make a difference, to build communities and to create better places to live that drives so many of us.
Will anything change now you’re a bank?
When people hear the word “bank”, they immediately think of more fees, less competitive rates, impersonal service or bad lending practices. We’re a customer-owned bank, which means we don’t make profits at the expense of our customers to increase shareholders’ profits like the listed banks – our profits are reinvested into our customers through competitive rates, fairer fees, local experienced lending specialists and our regional communities.
What do you see the future holding for Regional Australia Bank?
We will continue to thrive and grow, but this will never happen at the expense of our values and approach to banking. In the near future we’ll be launching a few exciting new products, like our Visa Platinum Rewards Credit Card that is linked to Qantas Frequent Flyer Programme. Of course, we’ll continue to provide a service to regional Australians that match their expectations. After all, things are easier in Regional Australia – that’s why we live here. Why should banking be any different?