On 5th March 2020, the Australasian Mutuals Institute (trading as Instil) closed its doors after almost 40 years educating mutual finance professionals. The final Instil Annual Report of 2020 notes that its financial position as a ‘going concern’ had been discussed by the Board for some time and they decided that it was time to cut their losses.

The report goes on to state that, “The Instil Board believes that the Australian Mutuals Foundation (AMF) is the most appropriate organisation to receive Instil’s assets consistent with the requirements of Instil’s Constitution”.

AMF has three core objectives – 1. To support Australian children and youth who are at risk of abuse or neglect, or who are disadvantaged in terms of housing, medical care or education 2. To provide a mechanism for members of cooperatives and mutuals, and the general public, to make donations to assist those affected by natural disasters.

The third objective is where the link with Instil comes in - To assist remote and disadvantaged communities in impoverished South East Asian and South Pacific countries to alleviate poverty through the creation of sustainable financial cooperatives, in part via the establishment of development education courses.

The Secretary of AMF, Brian Bennett, a man who incidentally has many years of experience as a credit union CEO, informed us that the COVID pandemic was the final nail in the coffin for Instil. He said that they had been having trouble getting attendees for courses for some time as most roles in today’s financial mutuals can be undertaken by graduates in finance, accounting, commerce etc. without specific reference to financial mutuals.

Instil was formed as the Institute of Credit Union Managers in 1981 by the Australian Council of Credit Union Executives Association (CUES) who were then training credit union managers. A parallel entity for credit union Directors called the Australian Institute of Credit Union Directors [AICUD] was also set up and in fact merged with the management education body in 2006 to form the Australasian Mutuals Institute.

The Australian credit union movement was begun in the middle of the 20th century by volunteers who generally had no expertise in finance and who learned credit union principles first and the practicalities of making loans and accounting as they went along.

As time marched into the 1970s, the financial world became more complicated, the amounts involved got bigger and many credit unions got into trouble that often could have been prevented with better financial education tailored to the credit union experience.

The Institute of Credit Union Managers (which was renamed Australian Institute of Credit Union Managers [AICUM] after just a few months) provided financial education for credit union staff with the Australian Federation of Credit Union Leagues and later CUSCAL directly intervening in the affairs of credit unions that were in danger of collapsing.

Graham Humphreys was elected as the first President with John McIntyre, Vice President, Cathy Fortescue, Secretary and Keith Young, Treasurer. Noel Prosser, Paul Bounds and Arthur Sharp completed the team.

Mr Humphreys had been General Manager of Matraville/Dependable Credit Union since 1973 when he took up the reins of AICUM in 1981. In July 1990 he gave an oral history interview to Richard Raxworthy, the recording of which is in the AMH collection.

Among the topics that Graham and Richard addressed was the rationale behind AICUM and how the Board operated:

AICUM is an organisation looking after the needs of credit union professionals throughout Australia. It is controlled by a volunteer board of Directors, each of whom stand down each year and who can renominate each year and the election process is open to the whole membership. The national president is elected in a separate election conducted at a similar time and the only qualification is after the president has been elected that each state has to have one representative on there before any state can have two representatives

On the day to day running of AICUM, Graham said:

The institute operates a secretariat out of this office here at Dependable Credit Union. This is the official registered office of AICUM. My secretary divides her time, half is paid by Dependable, half is paid by the Institute. She looks after the day to day running of the various courses and the educational facilities that we offer our members.

In the April 1998 edition of CUSCAL’s Directions magazine, a report was published on the 20th AICUM Conference held in Albury. The Albury credit union conference was began by CUES and run by AICUM at Albury until 2005.

The theme for the 20th anniversary conference was “20/20 Vision”. It asked attendees to create a vision for the Credit Union Movement for the year 2020. Little did they know that the year 2020 would be the last for AICUM.

The many speakers at the conference included new CUSCAL Chairman Keith Delaney. Directions summarised Keith’s vision for Australian credit unions thus:

He spoke of the need to face reality and to focus on what credit unions do best, not on how much they can do. Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do. The road to credit union differentiation he said is to focus on the non-price aspects: simplicity versus variety, specific niche needs and relationships.

It is clear from the photographs reproduced here why AICUM Conferences in Albury are fondly remembered by those who attended them as rip roaring social occasions despite all the serious discussion.

Graham had this to say to Richard about the location of Albury for the conferences:

We were looking at three venues at the time, one was Mildura, one was Ballarat or Bendigo, I think and the other was Albury. Most of the CUES members were in Victoria but we wanted to have access to those that wanted to come from NSW, so Albury was prime.