Heritage Bank began life way back in 1875 as Toowoomba Permanent Benefit Building and Investment Society in Toowoomba, Queensland. As such it is one of the oldest, continually operating financial institutions in Australia. In “A Century of Homemaking: A History of the Toowoomba Permanent Building Society – 1875-1975”, author Maurice French notes the following:

“At the time of the bi-centennial of the [building society] movement in 1975 the Toowoomba Permanent celebrated its first one hundred years. It had survived the late nineteenth-century land boom and financial collapse, prolonged drought, two world wars, and the Great Depression. In its centennial year the Society was the oldest continuous building society in Queensland and the fourteenth in Australia; in terms of assets it was the sixth largest in Queensland and the thirtieth (of 136) in Australia. This record had been achieved largely as a result of the cautious – indeed carefully conservative – business acumen of the Society’s Directors and the inherent prosperity of the Municipality (later City) of Toowoomba and its rural hinterland.”

Mr French writes of the difficulties the organisation had during the Depression, suffering a contraction in the share register and “an age of steady growth and consolidation”, post-World War II. Thence, “In the mid-1970s the Society deliberately sought to improve its image and appeal with a new style, if not substance, of operation and the tentative creation of a branch structure in the region. The second hundred years opened with clear signs of a new confidence and interest in the region beyond the traditional bases of Toowoomba and Brisbane”.

One of the most interesting aspects of “A Century of Homemaking” is the demographic analysis of members, especially via occupation and details of female membership pre-WWII. French notes that members of Toowoomba Permanent from the early days and right through, included a broad sweep of the working population except for the very rich. For example members came from the ranks of “labourers and factory hands, the lower ranks of the public service including railway, postal and police workers … teachers and nurses, small businessmen and self-employed artisans and tradesmen”.

What is most enlightening is reading the level of female membership. Not including women who were joint members with their husbands or daughters of members, French records that “possibly a quarter” of total memberships of Toowoomba Permanent Benefit Building and Investment Society in the 1920’s were held by women in their own right.

In 2011, Heritage Bank CEO Peter Lock, gave an interview to Ross Greenwood from Money Action, in which he expanded on some of the more recent history of the organisation. He relates that in 1982, “Toowoomba Permanent Building Society and the Darling Downs Building Society merged together to form the Heritage Building Society”.

Mr Greenwood then asked Mr Lock, “At what point did you decide to become a bank?” To which, Mr Lock replied, “2011 is when we made the switch to Heritage Bank, and through that time, a 142 year history, we’ve grown to be Australia’s largest customer owned bank, with assets just over $9.3 billion, which is a small bank by the total banking sector, but a large [mutual] bank.”

Heritage Bank remains Australia’s largest customer owned bank.