It was a historic scene as hundreds of people gathered around the town bank in March 2018 to witness time begin as Braidwood’s ‘Baby Ben’ clock made its first tick.
But the story begins two decades earlier, when Braidwood’s last bank packed up and left, leaving many locals despondent about the loss of proper banking facilities.
Several locals, including Nicholas Fry, caught wind of another banking company that offered a new and unique business model, one that would be perfect for a small and tight-knit community such as Braidwood.
“Now we have a bank that has 80 per cent of the market share of the people in town,” he says. “And between Braidwood and the other one in Bungendore, we’ve been able to return more than $4.5 million back to the community.”
Bendigo Bank is one of Australia’s oldest banking companies, originating in Bendigo and Adelaide more than 160 years ago. The new business model commenced in 1998 under the Community Bank Branch name and sits alongside conventional Bendigo Banks in the company’s portfolio.
There are now 324 Community Bank Branches across Australia, including in Braidwood, Bungendore, Jerrabomberra and three in Canberra.
The company has released its sustainability report for 2021, revealing that $272 million has been reinvested in communities around Australia. These investments have supported more than 6800 local initiatives across sport, arts, infrastructure, education, culture and numerous other community endeavours.
The branches in Wanniassa, Calwell, Curtin and Jerrabomberra have collectively returned more than $1.4 million back into organisations and charities across the ACT.
CEO of Molonglo Financial Services Limited, which operates the Canberra Community Bank Branches, Dean Goulder, describes the model as “profit-for-purpose”.
“Bendigo Bank offers a way for locals to become shareholders in their own banks again, bringing them guidance on a franchise agreement,” he says. “The revenue share is then 50-50, with half staying with the community bank and the other half going to Bendigo Bank.”
All the profits from the Community Bank Branches then go back to the local community in the form of sponsorships, grants, donations and dividends back to shareholders.
Dean says the branches must be owned and operated by locals who know the area and therefore know where best to focus the profits.
The Canberra branches have been a major sponsor of Menslink since 2015, and just a few months ago contributed to the Community Toolbox Canberra initiative. They also support many local sporting organisations, including the all-women’s South Canberra Football Club.
“This is the club’s first year in operation so it was great to give them financial backing from the community,” says Dean. “They were over the moon to get some of that funding, and we had a similar experience with the Community Toolbox Canberra.”
Dean says all sponsorship applicants have to demonstrate how they improve the mental health of their members or the local community, which has sparked some “really good conversations”.
Nicholas from the Braidwood branch says they have a similar focus on mental health and wellbeing, helping people with depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
“It’s a terrific model that Bendigo has worked out,” he says. “Basically we’re able to assist any not-for-profit organisation that needs help. A lot of our staff are connected to these organisations and have a real passion and feel for the community.”
These community partnerships can also blossom into something bigger, as happened with BlazeAid in 2020.
“BlazeAid came to Braidwood for 11 months following the Black Summer bushfires, and we built up a strong relationship with them,” says Nicholas. “This has now grown to become a big program through Bendigo Bank as a whole.”
Knowledge of the local community is how they arrived at the uproariously received 15th anniversary present to Braidwood: Baby Ben.
“We thought, ‘What does every town have that Braidwood doesn’t have?’ A community clock,” says Nicholas.
For the past three years, the Braidwood Community Bank Branch has been home to Baby Ben as it rings out its traditional Westminster tones every 15 minutes, metal figures flanking its side and depicting a succinct history of the town.
Elsewhere in Australia, other significant projects include a $50,000 grant for improvements to the Royal Flying Doctor Service patient care and transfer facility in Mount Gambier, South Australia; the purchase of an all-wheel drive vehicle for bush nurses; hybrid cars for learner driver safety education; and special trikes for children with mobility issues and other disabilities.