Heritage Isle merger demonstrates vanishing of Launceston banking culture

VINTAGE: The Launceston Bank for Savings located at the corner of Invermay Road and Bryan Street, Invermay in 1978. The institution was the first savings bank in Australia. Picture: File
VINTAGE: The Launceston Bank for Savings located at the corner of Invermay Road and Bryan Street, Invermay in 1978. The institution was the first savings bank in Australia. Picture: File

Long before the banking royal commission and Paul Keating’s four pillars of banking policy in 1990, Launceston once boasted a palpable sense of financial sovereignty. 

Skip forward to 2018 and the city is about to be down to one Launceston-owned banking institution – Bank Of Us.

Heritage Isle Credit Union’s members will vote on an upcoming merger with Sydney-based Police Bank on April 19. 

The merger would see Heritage Isle retain its Northern Tasmanian branches under the same branding, however all of the credit union’s assets would be transferred to Police Bank.

Former B&E chief executive Norman Holder said it was a sign of a vanishing local sector. 

Savings Bank of Tasmania on Brisbane Street, 1978. Picture: File

Savings Bank of Tasmania on Brisbane Street, 1978. Picture: File

“Launceston has been a remarkable city,” he said.

“It’s only a regional city, but it’s got a very proud history in such things as the financial world … there’s many things where we can hold our heads high about and be proud of.”

Launceston was home to the first building society and first savings bank in the country – the Launceston Equitable Building and Investment Society and the Launceston Bank for Savings. 

Additionally, the city always boasted numerous credit unions and mutual banks that catered specifically for Tasmanians, according to Mr Holder.

However, an endless list of amalgamations and takeovers saw Launceston financial institutions come and go.

The Launceston Bank for Savings turned into Tasmania Bank, which was bought by Commonwealth Bank. 

Heritage Isle has survived from 1965 until now, but the locally owned teachers and police credit unions also disappeared.  

The Launceston Equitable Building and Investment Society merged with the Bass Building Society to become B&E, before changing its name to Bank of Us in 2017.

Launceston Bank for Savings on the corner of Charles and York Streets, 1973. Picture: File

Launceston Bank for Savings on the corner of Charles and York Streets, 1973. Picture: File

Mr Holder said the continual changes eroded the sector’s culture. 

“If it’s a big boy taking over a little boy, it will be the culture of the big boy that will prevail,” he said.

Mr Holder said he was nostalgic for a bygone era of banking sovereignty. 

“The world we live in has changed dramatically,” he said. 

“The whole purpose of [local building societies] was to meet the needs of their members – buying members and depositing members.

“The big banks now have a very big shareholder base and shareholders like to see dividends and profit becomes a major motivation for [the banks].

“Sometimes it’s at the expense of the ideal service they should be providing to the public.”