Australia has one of the largest and most successful member-owned finance systems in the world. Credit unions, mutual building societies, mutual banks and friendly societies are member-focused, values-driven organisations that have their roots and their future success embedded in their local communities.
Mutuals undertake a range of community engagement activities, to help disadvantaged individuals and give back to their local communities.
There are many examples of credit unions, mutual building societies, mutual banks and friendly societies working to build sustainable communities through partnership programs. These programs demonstrate community engagement through support for initiatives and other local community organisations. These range from No Interest Loan Schemes (NILS) and low interest loan programs to targeted support, accounts and partnerships with non-government organisations working within communities to achieve sustainable aims
Some examples of community-support partnership programs:
- One mutual now offers grants to help disadvantaged families as a response to the fact that those most needing financial assistance are generally least likely to qualify for a personal loan. These grants can be used for rental bonds, essential car repairs or to purchase essential household or health-care items such as medical equipment, vacuum cleaners and refrigerators. These funds are then repaid in interest free instalments.
- Another credit union was originally developed by a group of Aboriginal Elders to provide financial services to residents of Arnhemland communities who were disadvantaged by a lack of banking and other financial services. This credit union employs primarily local Indigenous staff and operates in 12 remote communities throughout the Northern Territory. This organisation provides personalised quality financial services for the Indigenous people and organisations in remote communities of the Northern Territory and a range of in-community face to face services, support and targeted inclusion work.
- A co-operative in Melbourne is another unique mutual organisation, formed to serve people on low incomes. The organisation has now grown provide appropriate and supportive financial services to people on low incomes. The purpose of the Co-op is to assist members to gain the skills necessary to manage their own finances with access to small loans, financial counselling, a budget service, special savings accounts like Christmas Club and services aimed at avoiding problematic debt among those on low and fixed incomes.
- At the other end of the scale from a small and targeted mutual is one of Australia’s biggest and most successful financial service providers that have embraced the concept of sustainable communities in all its operations. This mutual’s approach to banking encourages like-minded people and organisations to make socially and environmentally responsible choices.
- This organisation introduced a conservation program that will help offset the loss of biodiversity associated with its business of banking, and in particular to offset new homes financed by the credit union. In addition to its commitment to affordable housing, it has revised its environmental home loan product to make it easier for people to understand how they can live more sustainable lives when considering purchasing a home.