The story of Australia’s oldest building society and Tasmania's newest and only customer owned bank, Bank of us, is one about Tasmanians helping each other to own their own homes. It's also a story of survival, strength and supporting communities.
Our story began when a group of public-spirited citizens saw the need to provide housing finance by way of a co-operative venture and launched the Launceston Equitable Building and Investment Society in January 1870.
The cash taken at the first meeting totalled only $235 but the nine directors, chaired by the then Superintendent of Police, James Coulter, were delighted even though it would be 10 years before any of them received any remuneration.
The first loan for $400 was issued to James Brickhill for land in Brisbane Street between Margaret and Bourke Street and the second was a more substantial loan of $1000 to Gustavus Gabriel for a Wellington Street shop and house.
Along with helping people to own their own homes at a time when there was no public housing in Tasmania, the society’s goal was to encourage thrift in a town where there were more pubs than churches.
To reinforce these goals, staff were personally told in 1890 they should not indulge in the widespread practice of gambling and betting and a society advertisement in the 1943 Launceston Competition Program read “Houses are proof of the industry of man; ownership the proof of his thrift and enterprise”.
The biggest growth period for the society, which changed its name to the Launceston Equitable Building Society in May 1877, came after World War II when it, and other Launceston societies, lent almost $10 million and financed more than 7000 homes in 10 years.
From 1888 the Equitable Building Society provided banking services in the South through agencies. However, during the 1980s it established three branch offices – the Rosny branch (September 1981), Moonah branch (May 1986) and the Hobart branch (October 1986). The Moonah branch was relocated to Glenorchy in May 2000.
In May 1968 a group of 8 North West Coast business men met and decided the North-West Coast should have its own building society providing “coastal money for coastal homes”.
On 17 July 1968 the society was incorporated at the first meeting of the Board and its registered office was set up in one small office on the second floor of Des Day’s building in Devonport.
Des Day was appointed as the Society’s first Chairman and the first public investment was accepted on 26 September 1968.
For the first four years the directors did not receive any remuneration for their time and it was four years before the society was in a position to pay its secretary – and then only $10 a week.
However, during the first year the society invested $75,000 of public money and by 1981 it had assets of more than $21 million and had helped more than 1300 couples achieve the Australian dream of home ownership.
The society’s success saw it open branch offices in Ulverstone in 1976, followed by Wynyard in 1977 and Burnie in 1979. In 1981 the continued rapid growth led to the construction of a new head office complex in Devonport.
Like the Equitable Building Society before it, the Bass Building Society was successful because it cared about people and by 1988 it was the State’s largest building society even though it was the youngest.
By the late 1980s big was seen as better for financial institutions and on November 1, 1988 Tasmania’s two leading building societies – the Equitable Building Society and the Bass Building Society – decided to merge to enable them to compete effectively and to provide a state-wide network of branches.
The amalgamation of the state’s oldest building society (Equitable) with the youngest and largest (Bass) to become the Bass and Equitable Building Society created the state’s largest non-bank financial institution with assets of more than $90 million.
In November 2001 Bass & Equitable, one of Tasmania’s last locally-owned financial institutions, changed its name to B&E to mark a fresh image and marketing strategy for the society.
In part the name change was a push for more of the youth and personal loan market, but the goal was also to drop the “building society” reference for the first time in the organisation’s long history to reflect the new broader focus of the company which by now offered a wide range of financial services including home and personal loans, business overdrafts, commercial loans, credit and debit cards, deposit and cheque accounts and BPAY.
In 2006, we refreshed our image with a few subtle enhancements to our logo.
By August 2006, B&E had more than 30,000 members and assets of more than $400 million. It also had gained the distinction of being the second most recognised financial institution in Tasmania.
On 1 November 2017 we became Bank of us. Bank of us is a different kind of bank – a customer owned bank.
Our new name isn’t ‘Bank of you’ or Bank of me’, it’s Bank of us. The ‘us’ implies being part of something bigger. As Tasmania’s only customer owned bank, we’re placing people at the heart of banking and the circular layers of our logo are our way of representing Tasmania, the community, our customers and the bank.
It may not be what people expect from a bank, but we’re not like any other bank. At Bank of us, our profits will continue to benefit our customers, through better products and services and we’ll not be owned by external stakeholders like the major banks.
Remarkably long service by staff and directors, people who wanted to service the community and work for the betterment of Launceston, the North-West region and Tasmania is one of the reasons for our success.
The tradition began with our first director, James Coulter. He was a director for 37 years and was then succeeded by his son Charles who became a director in 1934 and was the board’s chairman from 1946 until his death in 1950.
Charles’ son Eric, the third generation of Coulters to be represented on the board, became a director in 1948 and was appointed board chairman in 1959. He held the position until his death in 1983 which finally ended the family connection.
Two generations of the Rolph family have also served as directors – W. R. Rolph from 1913 to 1946 and Sir Gordon Rolph from 1946 to 1959.
Other family names which sprinkle our records include Webster, Monds, Pepper, Wilmot, Hart, Hughes, Gunn, Barton, Henty and Gee.
Long serving staff have also contributed to our stability. Our longest serving secretary was W.H Patten who joined the society in 1886, became secretary in 1898 and retired in 1942. The longest serving staff member is Nettie Burke who worked in the Launceston branch from 1956 to 1997.
James Barclay’s record term as a director for the first 56 years of the society’s existence is also noteworthy.
For 120 years permanent building societies operated continuously in Tasmania with boards of management which comprised only men. In 1978 we were the first to break this tradition by appointing Tasmania’s first female director of a building society – Rita King, wife of former Launceston Mayor Frank King.