While the Big Four banks are slowly closing their doors in the regions, a new banking institution dedicated to regional Australia will soon welcome its first Riverina customers.
Regional Australia Bank (RAB) is a mutual bank, meaning it is owned by the customers rather than investors, which is the case with the Big Four.
RAB has expanded its reach to 36 branches across central and northern NSW and is preparing to open its first Wagga branch in Baylis Street, opposite Sturt Mall.
RAB CEO David Heine hopes to be back in his hometown to open the new branch before Christmas.
“We are already up and running. We’ve got staff here [in Wagga],” Mr Heine said.
“We can’t wait to get back, cut the ribbon and say hello to our new members in Wagga.”
RAB was originally established as the New England Staff Credit Union at the University of New England in Armidale in 1969.
After multiple mergers in the 2000s, it became the Community Mutual Group and finally, in 2016, the Regional Australian Bank.
Mr Heine said the people of Wagga needed someone who understood their issues.
“Not one member is the same as anyone else. We all have our issues … it just takes someone to sit down and listen and understand them,” he said.
“And we find when you take the time to do that, you can find great results that work for our members and our community.
“Unfortunately, listening to people is a skill that far too many of my banking colleagues have forgotten.”
Mr Heine said RAB did not have the challenge that other banks had in trying to separate the interests of the shareholders with those of the customers.
“They are one and the same for us, which means we can focus on using the money we make on doing good … both building products and services and extending or lending to regional Australians,” he said.
“We can do this rather than maximising profits to hive that off and send it off to shareholders.”
Born in Leeton, Mr Heine moved to Wagga when he was five years old in the mid-1970s.
He spent the remainder of his childhood and teenage years in Wagga and is a “proud product” of Sacred Heart Primary School and St Michael’s Regional High School.
“I played an awful lot of sport and should have spent more time in class than I did,” Mr Heine said. “I’m a proper Wagga bloke.”
Attending Country Hope’s 20th anniversary, Mr Heine said he always loved returning to Wagga.
“I saw a lot of people, including my old maths teachers, and seeing other faces I have not seen in decades is warming,” he said.
“The room is full of people who share the same upbringing as I did and makes it feel like home to me.”
After studying for a Bachelor of Economics degree at the University of New South Wales, Mr Heine began his finance career at an international bank.
“I worked my way through different parts of the banking industry until I found the mutual banking space,” he said.
“It felt like home to me.”
After 20 years in banking and finance, Mr Heine was appointed RAB’s CEO in June 2021.
RAB’s grand master plan is to expand its reach in the south, beginning with the opening of the Wagga branch.
Follow the link to find out more about Regional Australia Bank.