What would be your response if I told you that the 5th largest Australian Bank was:
- So innovative it’s model is being exporting its model across the world,
- So good it’s been awarded as the most ethical, reputable, innovative and best for business, and
- So committed to creating shared value towards a 100-year vision that it’s donated more than $130 million back to local communities in which it operates?
I’ve been a voluntary Director of my local Bendigo Bank branch for a few years, and I still get surprised at what a remarkable organisation it is. Recently attending my first National Conference with 700 fellow Directors from 300 branches made me even more passionate about the Bendigo Bank model. Throughout the conference I enjoyed the sense of shared vision, culture, and of being part of something remarkable. There were four themes from the conference that I count as reasons for Bendigo being the most surprising Bank in Australia.
Using the power of social enterprise
Bendigo’s chair and CEO presented at the conference, as did Rebecca Scott from STREAT. All three are great advocates for social enterprise as a self-sustaining model for solving social challenges and growing stronger communities. Both Bendigo and STREAT combine an idealistic commitment to serving people and communities, with investible, scalable commercial ventures. All are optimistic about seeing a lot more social enterprises grow in the next decade.
Collaboration at the core of the model
Many experiences at the conference highlighted the power of collaboration. One was a fun and insightful exercise in optimising workflows with Mischief, Motivation and Attitude (you can watch a video on their site), where 56 people in two teams had to collaborate to improve their performance. Although only an exercise, this was also a practical demonstration of the way voluntary Directors, local staff and corporate advisers collaborate every day. Another example of collaboration was the conference venue: Ulumbarra Theatre. The Theatre is an example of how governments, businesses, private individuals and philanthropic foundations have co-invested to create a stunning theatre in a former goal. It seems to be a case where collaboration has created high levels of ownership that contribute to high usage: the Theatre has hosted 50,000 people since opening a few months ago.
Advocating for better local and national policy
Bendigo has recently engaged in advocacy to even the playing field in banking, correcting a situation where the big four had to hold a far smaller percentage of cash reserves against their loans than the smaller banks. This successful change in financial policy will result in a more competitive banking market for all Australians. Now Bendigo is turning its brand and network towards advocating for other issues of national significance. During the conference there were several sessions that focused on how Directors and corporate staff can collaborate to influence policy through intelligent advocacy. Rosie Batty shared insights from her successful national campaign against domestic violence. There was also a panel of experienced journalists and politicians (Sara James, Sonia Petering, Peter Ryan and Ben Hubbard) sharing tips on working with the media. I think it’s remarkable that a bank is training 700 leaders from across the country in how to grow a better Australia through political advocacy.
Successful innovation, despite it being uncomfortable, messy and very personal
Governments from the UK, USA and Asia are clambering to learn about and replicate Bendigo’s success as a corporate-community partnership. What I find fascinating is that this innovation has emerged through a messy and uncomfortable process of highly skilled corporate bankers collaborating with passionate voluntary boards from far flung country towns. Together they are trying to refine products, define policies and agree on marketing straplines that both appeal to the lowest common denominator in the audience and achieve everyone’s highest aspirations. It’s not like Bendigo parachutes well-paid consultants in to local branches to drive innovation. The innovations are demanded and tested by staff and hundreds of voluntary Director who are personally and financially invested in trying to make this work. Each Director has personal stories about their hopes, frustrations and the positive impact of Bendigo Bank. It’s the resulting stories of lives saved, care facilities constructed, scholarships awarded, communities rebuilt after fires and floods, and $130 million others that show this innovative model is working for our communities.