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Connexus : Issue 43
create momentum for greater banking choice for Australian consumers. In Lismore, about 200 people signed a petition supporting an independent inquiry into the banking system. While feedback on the day has been positive, Sweeny says discussions with locals underlined the battle that credit unions, building societies and mutual banks have in challenging the major banks. Knowledge of mutuals is "very poor", even though the Summerland brand is strong in the region. "There is still a perception that you do your small banking with a credit union, but if you really want some serious banking, you go to a big bank," says Sweeny. Road warriors The bus tours build on Balance Banking's national launch in February as a major commitment by the Customer Owned Banking Association in support of a banking system inquiry. The campaign also includes an interactive website (www.balancebanking.com.au) with market facts and information, opinion polls and opportunities to engage in social media platforms. The NSW tour began in Newcastle on April 18 and went on to Cessnock, Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour, Lismore, Armidale, Dubbo and Orange. Locals could press a button to back a better banking deal and had the chance to talk to staff from the association and local banking staff. The tour fnished on a high note with Orange setting the record for Balance Banking petition signatures at 239, says Mark Degotardi, the association's head of public affairs. Overall, the campaign collected almost 1,000 signatures and each event attracted signifcant community support and media coverage. Degotardi says the tour, which went to Canber ra, regional Victoria and Melbourne in June, and will also move to Queensland in coming months, underlines the connection between local communities and their credit unions, building societies and mutual banks. "This is a point that sometimes gets lost in the regulatory debate around competition in banking and capital and liquidity. "We want to show that banking is actually about people." Now that the bus tour has attracted the interest of local MPs, the key to the campaign is to take it to Parliament House in Canberra. "We want to send a message to politicians and others that these fnancial institutions are really important," says Degotardi, "and they need to do more to give them a fair go and let them take on the big guys." Message momentum Holiday Coast Credit Union, which has a proud presence in regional cities such as Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour, sent its community engagement team to the bus events. "It was a great experience to have our message out there and to engage with the local community," says CEO Neville Parsons. Rob Oakeshott, independent federal MP for Lyne, tweeted his support for the Balance Banking campaign, and the National Party's federal member for Cowper, Luke Hartsuyker, has also expressed his backing. Parsons is confdent such momentum will help get the message across in a federal election year. "I know regional Australia is very aligned to its politicians and people have their ear because they are truly part of the community. I think the push in ter ms of the regional electorates will be very solid." Staff from Orange Credit Union, First Choice Credit Union and a branch of Greater Building Society took part in the Orange bus event in the main street. A message emerged on the day from disenchanted major bank customers who object to the banks’ high levels of proft and moves to outsource functions overseas, says Orange general manager Paul McNamara. However, many of those people had not seriously considered switching to a customer-owned bank. "That's disturbing, particularly in Orange because our credit union and the other mutuals in town do a lot of advertising," says McNamara. "A lot of the big bank customers are still unaware that there are alternatives that can meet their needs." Multi-branding amazement One of the major aims of the Balance Banking campaign is to create a more level playing feld in banking. Relevant to that is the fact that the bus tour experienced blunt community feedback voicing disquiet about the major banks' multi- branding strategy. Parsons says attendees had little awareness that Westpac owns the Bank of Melbourne, St George, BankSA and RAMS; that the Commonwealth Bank has BankWest and Aussie Home Loans in its We want to show that banking is actually about people. CoverStory www.customerownedbanking.asn.au 25