Still banking on agriculture's potential 20 years on

Rural Bank and Elders mark two decades of agri-banking initiative

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Financial flashback to 2000: Elders Rural Bank managing director, Ian Mainsbridge and Bendigo Bank managing director, Rob Hunt, with the new bank's chairman and former Keating Government Treasurer, John Dawkins, with Howard Government Financial Services Minister, Joe Hockey and Elders managing director, David Hills at the official launch.

Financial flashback to 2000: Elders Rural Bank managing director, Ian Mainsbridge and Bendigo Bank managing director, Rob Hunt, with the new bank's chairman and former Keating Government Treasurer, John Dawkins, with Howard Government Financial Services Minister, Joe Hockey and Elders managing director, David Hills at the official launch.

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Remember when agribusiness conglomerate Elders had just been granted a banking licence and teamed up with Bendigo Bank?

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Two decades ago the big news in Australian financial markets was the introduction of the groundbreaking goods and services tax, but in rural circles another significant launch was also underway.

Historic agribusiness turned business conglomerate, Elders, had just being granted a banking licence and opened the doors to a new financial service in partnership with Bendigo Bank.

Representatives from Elders and Bendigo Bank came together in June 2000 to sign an agreement that created Elders Rural Bank as a 50-50 partnership.

The opportunities anticipated for the fledgling lender and the sector it was created to serve proved well founded.

Since 2000 the value of Australian agriculture has doubled from $30.2 billion to about $60b today.

However, Elders' financial sector aspirations had to be dramatically scaled back by the end of its first decade in the banking business when the global financial crisis hit

The diverse company deep, in debt, was forced a sell off of all its non-core agricultural assets, and quite a few agricultural interests, too.

A lot has changed in 20 years but by having a partnership with Elders we've enhanced benefits our customers can access - Alexandra Gartmann, Rural Bank

Between 2008 and 2010, Elders sold down its shareholding to Bendigo Bank, which simply renamed the specialist farm-based service Rural Bank.

Since June last year Rural Bank has operated as a division of the expanded Bendigo and Adelaide Bank.

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However, a sound rural banking partnership continues between Bendigo and Adelaide Bank and Elders which continues to provide a shopfront to Rural Bank services via its own vast network of branches Australia-wide.

Rural Bank and Elders have kept working together through agricultural and finance industry challenges and realised opportunities as a partnership, and with their customers in the agricultural community.

Bank chief executive officer Alexandra Gartmann said the anniversary marked an important opportunity to celebrate the success of the partnership and the value it provided customers.

Ag and financial expertise

"A lot has changed in 20 years but by having a partnership with Elders we've enhanced benefits our customers can access - financial expertise and agricultural expertise," she said.

"Rural Bank and Elders are united in our passion for agriculture.

"This is reflected in the ongoing investment in customer-focused relationships, specialist industry insights and partnerships with key industry organisations".

Elders managing director Mark Allison believed the strength of the Elders-Rural Bank relationship lay in both companies being embedded in rural communities.

"Our people, just like Rural Bank employees, live and breathe agriculture and truly understand the unique set of circumstances, challenges and opportunities facing farmers," he said.

Our people live and breathe agriculture and truly understand the unique set of circumstances, challenges and opportunities facing farmers - Mark Allison, Elders

"The knowledge and technical expertise of our staff is complemented by the specialist products Rural Bank provides, ensuring we offer a much more complete service to our regional clients."

Last year a distribution agreement between the two embedded almost 100 Rural Bank employees in Elders branches across the country, some of whom joined the business early in the bank's life.

Rural Bank senior agribusiness relationship manager Tony Harrison has worked for Elders since 2007, moving into Rural Bank last year.

"Our partnership is really what sets us apart, providing evidence-based insights that aids effective decision making, and building trusted relationships with our customers," he said.

"We work to develop a close understanding of the entirety of our customers farm business and often act as a sounding board for their plans, ideas and hopes."

Many relationship managers lived in the communities they supported.

And another bank

Meanwhile, July 1 also marked a much younger birthday for another new player in the farm finance market, the federal government's Regional Investment Corporation, which celebrates its second anniversary.

RIC has approved more than 800 low-cost loans valued at more than $870 million to Australian farmers and farm-related small businesses since July 2018.

Support has included funds for hundreds of drought-affected farmers via more than 720 Drought Loans valued at about $730m, which the government lender estimated had saved borrowers almost $85m in interest costs via its two-year interest free terms.

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