Everyone’s heard of thebig four banks, as well as the likes of ING, Macquarie, Bendigo Bank and so on. But had you ever heard of Coastline Credit Union? The Capricornian? Lithuanian Co-operative Credit Society “Talka” Limited?
No, those aren’t local rugby teams – they’re customer-owned banks, also known as mutual banks. And just because you haven’t heard of them doesn’t mean you should write them off as your potential lender.
In this article, we’ll go through the basics of customer-owned banks: what they are, who the biggest ones are, what kinds of loans they offer, and how they compare to some of the other prominent banks in the market.
What is a customer-owned bank?
Customer-owned banks are ADIs(authorised deposit-taking institutions) that are owned and operated with the sole purpose of providing banking services to members (i.e. customers) rather than generating a profit. In other words, they don’t have shareholders and instead reinvest profits either back into the bank itself or into the community.
In terms of products they can offer, there’s no real difference between mutual banks and retail banks – they can all offer home loans,credit cards, deposit products and more.
In recent years, banking with a mutual bank has become more and more popular. According to the latest data from end of financial year reports, the combined market share of the big four is down nearly 1%, while a 2020 report from KPMG found customer-owned banks actually increased their residential lending portfolio by 3 that year and 7.3% the year before. Mutuals have about $138 billion in total assets combined, which is about 2.6% of the total banking market.
This isn’t a whole lot, but is a marked gain on previous numbers when you consider the sheer size of the big four and other retail banks. More recent research from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) found the major banks grew by their lending by 2.6% in 2019, for comparison.
“With growth rates like this it’s clear that word of our sector’s customer satisfaction scores, competitive interest rates and innovative services is spreading,” Customer Owned Banking Association (COBA) CEO Michael Lawrence said.
“Australians want, and deserve, to be put first by their bank. Thankfully there’s an entire sector with a 150-year legacy of doing just that.
“These figures are a positive indicator of improving competition, but now is not the time to become complacent. If greater customer outcomes are the goal, then greater competition is the means.”
In the words of Mr Lawrence and the customer-owned banks themselves, the fact that they’re not for profit means they can pass on better rates and fees to their customers, while also offering better service. This is sometimes true, but not always, and we’ll explore just how good the interest rates from mutual banks really are.
Who are the customer-owned banks?
There are more than 70 customer-owned banks in Australia, from large customer-owned institutions that operate nationally, to tiny little coastal credit unions dedicated to serving the local township’s inhabitants. While not all mutual banks will be on there, COBA has a list of each of its67 member institutions here.
The 10 biggest (by total assets) Australian customer-owned banks, according to KPMG’s 2020 Mutuals Industry report, are:
Founded in 1946, CUA – short for Credit Union Australia – has grown to become the country’s largest customer-owned bank, offering financial and insurance products to over 500,000 Australians. CUA is based in Brisbane and was named the “Most Innovative Mutual” by the Australian Banking Innovation Awards 2019.
Newcastle Permanent is the second-largest customer-owned bank in Australia and touts itself as an alternative to the big banks. It has over 300,000 customers and nearly 1,000 staff, and given the name, it is unsurprisingly based in Newcastle.
Based in Toowoomba, Queensland, Heritage Bank originally began as the Toowoomba Permanent Building Society in 1875. It changed its name to Heritage Bank in 2011 but remains one of the oldest financial institutions in Australia (still standing).
People’s Choice Credit Union
People’s Choice Credit Union, or People’s Choice for short, has more than 360,000 members across Australia. It began in 1949 but became what it is today after the merger of Australian Central and Savings & Loans in December 2009.
Its headquarters are in Adelaide, and Roy Morgan named it the country’s best credit union in 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Teachers Mutual Bank
Based in Homebush, NSW, Teachers Mutual Bank was created in 1966 by teachers for teachers as Teachers Credit Union. It’s now available to everyone, and has over 200,000 members across the country, making it one of Australia’s largest mutual banks.
It also owns Firefighters Mutual Bank, Health Professionals Bank and UniBank.
Greater Bank began as the Newcastle and Hunter River Public Service Starr-Bowkett Building Co-operative Society Limited, or NHRPSSBBCSL as you might know it. It changed its name to Greater Bank in 2016, and today claims to have more than 250,000 customers.
Greater Bank is based in Newcastle NSW.
Bank Australia was first established in 1957 as CSIRO Co-operative Credit Society, before rebranding to Bank Australia in 2015. Over its history it has unified 72 credit unions, eventually becoming Australia’s first customer-owned bank. As a ‘responsible lender’, Bank Australia does not lend to industries operating in:
Intensive animal farming
Bank Australia’s headquarters are in Kew, Victoria, and it has more than 400 staff and over 125,000 customers.
Beyond Bank Australia, or just Beyond Bank, is headquartered in Adelaide. It’s 100% customer-owned and became so in 2013, and is comprised of other institutions such as My Credit Union, Country First Credit Union, Alliance One, Wagga Mutual Credit Union and more.
Beyond Bank has nearly 250,000 customers, 40+ branches and a national Australian-based call centre.
Based in Wollongong, IMB was established way back in 1880 as Illawarra Mutual Building Society and is one of Australia’s biggest mutuals. IMB has over 200,000 members and a growing branch network in Illawarra, Sydney, NSW South Coast, the ACT and Melbourne, whereas many other mutual banks tend to be more online-focused.
P&N Bank is the only West-Australian bank in the top 10, based in Perth. This makes it the largest bank-owned and managed in Western Australia. The P&N stands for police and nurses – it originally began in 1969, but the merger of Police Credit Society and the Nurses Credit Society led it to be named the Police & Nurses Credit Society
What home loans do customer-owned banks offer?
Customer-owned banks are plentiful, as the data above shows, and the larger ones are able to offer home loans for all sorts of different circumstances:
How do the customer-owned banks’ rates and fees compare to other lenders?
Customer-owned banks can offer some great value home loans with low interest rates and fees, but remember there are thousands and thousands of home loan products on the market. What you can see in the tables above don’t tell the full picture – not all customer-owned bank home loans products will have rates as low as the ones displayed.
Don’t automatically assume customer-owned banks offer the best rates on the market just because they say they do. It’s very possible (probable) that there are better rates out there, so broaden your search to include some of these other types of lenders too. Theseother types of lenders include:
Non-bank lenders: Non-bank lenders are financial institutions that don’t hold an ADI license, meaning they can’t offer deposit products such assavings accounts, transaction accounts orterm deposits, but can still offer home loans.
The big four banks: The big four banks –ANZ,Commonwealth Bank,NABandWestpac– take up much of the home loan market in Australia as we discussed before, and have more than $1.4 trillion in assets under management together.
Retail banks: Some of the biggest retail banks outside of the big four also have billions and billions of loans and assets under management, such as the likes ofING, Macquarie Bank, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, HSBC, AMP and more.
Neobanks: There’s been a spate of new fintech ‘digital’ or ‘neo’ banks popping up lately, but only 86 400 offers its own home loan products.
Buying a home or looking to refinance? The table below features home loans with some of the lowest interest rates on the market for owner occupiers.
Base criteria of: a $400,000 loan amount, variable, fixed, principal and interest (P&I) home loans with an LVR (loan-to-value) ratio of at least 80%. If products listed have an LVR <80%, they will be clearly identified in the product name along with the specific LVR. The product and rate must be clearly published on the Product Provider’s web site. Monthly repayments were calculated based on the selected products’ advertised rates, applied to a $400,000 loan with a 30-year loan term.
Customer-owned bank home loans – pros and cons
No bank is perfect. Here are the various pros and cons of banking with a customer-owned institution:
The entire market was not considered in selecting the above products. Rather, a cut-down portion of the market has been considered which includes retail products from at least the big four banks, the top 10 customer-owned institutions and Australia’s larger non-banks:
The big four banks are: ANZ, CBA, NAB and Westpac
The top 10 customer-owned Institutions are the ten largest mutual banks, credit unions and building societies in Australia, ranked by assets under management in November 2020. They are (in descending order): Credit Union Australia, Newcastle Permanent, Heritage Bank, Peoples’ Choice Credit Union, Teachers Mutual Bank, Greater Bank, IMB Bank, Beyond Bank, Bank Australia and P&N Bank.
The larger non-bank lenders are those who (in 2020) has more than $9 billion in Australian funded loans and advances. These groups are: Resimac, Pepper, Liberty and Firstmac.
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Some providers' products may not be available in all states. To be considered, the product and rate must be clearly published on the product provider's web site.
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*Comparison rate is based on a loan of $150,000 over a term of 25 years. Please note the comparison rate only applies to the examples given. Different loan amounts and terms will result in different comparison rates. Costs such as redraw fees and costs savings, such as fee waivers, are not included in the comparison rate but may inﬂuence the cost of the loan.
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