BCU starts new chapter

new era began for members of the New South Wales- based Bananacoast Credit Union on November 1.

Almost five decades after a formation meeting was held in the Country Women’s Association rooms in Macksville, a merger with P&N Bank was approved.

While the name remains, the merger was pitched to members as way to improve size and scale to remain competitive in today’s market.

The credit union was first broached as an idea at Taylors Arm’s Pub with No Beer. It was created by farmers for farmers, who often leased land and therefore struggled to get loans.

After the formation meeting in September 1970, Bill Ussher was elected the inaugural Chairman, Gordon Hughes as Vice Chairman and Neville Spear as Secretary/Treasurer.

Its first ‘office’ was a family home in Gray’s Crossing (complete with cardboard box under the bed) and repayments were often made by handing over money in the street. Loans could be paid off at 20 cents per case of bananas sold at the markets by the Banana Growers’ Federation (BGF). For years, there were no bad debts.

Mr Spear’s wife Beatrice, who was also instrumental in running the credit union in the early days, shared some of her recollections before she passed away in 2016.

“Many times, I was given money to either deposit into savings or pay off loan accounts from members in the street. It was a wonderful feeling to be trusted like that,” she said.

“When told by an official of the Credit Union League that we could easily have a million dollars in assets before long, I was astounded. But we did pass the million dollars within a few years.”

A key goal was to give fellow primary producers a good standard of living, with less time worrying about finances.

“At first, you had to be a member of the BGF to become a shareholder, but that proved too big a job for BGF as too many people were joining just to be able to join the Credit Union,” Mrs Spear recalled.

“It was decided to change to ‘Bananacoast Community Credit Union Ltd’ in 1975. Any person living in the shires of Nambucca or Coffs Harbour could join.”

Of course, the credit union continued to grow. In 2012, bcu opened its 23rd branch and membership reached 50,000 in 2015.

The merger with P&N Bank was approved by both bcu and P&N Bank members. Both groups of members returned a favourable vote of 87%, exceeding the required 75%.