Ten years of community banking in Willaura and Lake Bolac

Tom Guthrie, Jane Millear, Lisa Heard, Lois Brain, Tony Millear, Les Bright, Ebony Kumnick, Tanya Haslett and Anthony Heard celebrate community banking.THE Board of Directors and staff invite customers, shareholders and the general public to help celebrate Willaura and Lake Bolac Community Bank Branch’s 10th birthday next Wednesday November 26.

Join in for a for a sausage sizzle from 10.30am at Willaura and from 1pm at Lake Bolac. Winners of the coloring competition will be announced and there’ll be a visit from the bank’s very own Piggy.

The branch has come along way since its inception a decade ago.

When the National Australia Bank announced in April 2002 that it would close its Willaura branch there was widespread dismay in the community, given there would be no full banking service left in the town. Lake Bolac was in a similar position after the Westpac branch closed in 1994.

A public meeting was called in Willaura to consider what options were available to continue and improve banking services in the district. An Investigative Committee was formed and found that the Bendigo Community Bank model had the most merit. Its broad community ownership of the franchise, and its profit sharing model promised enormous benefits to the district.

Accordingly a Community Bank Steering Committee was formed and an invitation was extended to Lake Bolac to establish a combined Willaura/Lake Bolac Community Bank.

The arduous job of making this all a reality began. The concept was widely publicised and financial pledges from potential shareholders rolled in steadily. By July 2003 $500,000 was reached.

By mid 2004 Bendigo Bank gave the go ahead to the newly formed Willaura/Lake Bolac Financial Services Limited to issue a prospectus. The minimum subscription of $510,000 made up by approximately 400 shareholders, was reached by September 2004, and the work of establishing the branches began.

Willaura’s former Commonwealth Bank building was leased from Council and completely refurbished to create the new Willaura branch. A specially designed and outfitted space in Lake Bolac’s new Information and Business Centre was leased for the Lake Bolac branch.

Neil Hinkley, previously the manager of the Willaura Commonwealth Bank branch and before that the Willaura branch of the State Bank of Victoria, was appointed inaugural Branch manager of the Willaura/Lake Bolac Community Bank. Clare Hill, Angela McCrow, and Simone Clark (McDonald) were the Bank’s first customer service officers.

On November 26 2004, after more than two years of hard work by a dedicated community, celebrations were held in both towns to mark the return of full banking services to the district.

The Willaura-Lake Bolac Community Bank has become successful, and made a significant difference to the communities.

An obvious benefit is having local branches in town, and local manager, Trevor Link. Four customer service officers are also employed, including original staff members Simone McDonald and Clare Hill, along with Joanne Byron and Carol McInnes.

A run down Willaura building was refurbished, and the Community Bank was the catalyst for the building of the Lake Bolac Information and Business Centre.

Importantly, those shareholders who showed so much faith and generosity in ensuring the Bank’s establishment are now receiving dividend payments.

Profits now flow back to the district through sponsorship programs and support of community events. Thanks to the customers of the Willaura/Lake Bolac Community Bank $100,000 has been returned to the district since 2004.

For more details or information please contact the branch on 5354 1170 or 5350 3274.

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