Bankwest’s history spans 120 years. We have been recognised in the prestigious Financial Review Smart Investor Blue Ribbon Awards and we were named Bank of the Year in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2017 and Business Bank of the Year in 2013 and 2014. We like to think it’s because we go that extra mile for our customers, something we’ve taken pride in doing since we began in 1895.
Back then, we were known as the Agricultural Bank of Western Australia. We were set up by the WA Government to service the needs of the state’s farmers. In those days, the only way to effectively do that was to hit the road.
If you think WA is a big empty land now, you should have seen it then! Our staff would often sleep outdoors while travelling between farms. We weren’t exaggerating about going the distance for our clients.
By 1923, we’d grown to have 8 district offices throughout WA, and in 1945 we became a trading bank under our new name, the Rural and Industries Bank of Western Australia (affectionately known as the R&I).
By 1947, we were sufficiently large enough that the safe in our Morawa Branch crashed through the floorboards. Unperturbed, our staff cut through the boards so they could deposit our customers’ cash 18 inches below floor level every day. Have we mentioned we also have a history of ingenuity?
We’re also rather competitive - in the nicest possible way. In 1956, we became a savings bank - just 11 weeks after the Bank of NSW (now Westpac) and ANZ, and ahead of the other big banks. From then on, it was game on.
In the 60’s and 70’s we introduced all sorts of firsts and proved we were a more than credible challenger to the Big 4. We launched ‘blue light’ signature verification units, drive-in bank branches (sadly no more) and WA’s first after hours cash dispenser (this is before ATMs were even invented). We were also the first bank in WA to appoint women to permanent telling positions and the first bank in Australia to fully implement electronic data processing.
In 1985, we really stepped up to the big league and opened our first branch in Sydney. With our client base having well and truly grown beyond WA farmers, another name change was in order. In 1994, we became the Bank of Western Australia and started trading under the name Bankwest.
Aged 113, we joined the Commonwealth Bank Group and in 2008 became part of Australia’s largest provider of financial services. Not bad for a plucky, little bank that started out with just two people! While we are now part of the establishment, we haven’t forgotten our no-nonsense farming past.
Historical facts were taken from “Horizons” by Ken Spillman. “Horizons” is a history of the Rural and Industries Bank of Western Australia and was published by the University of Western Australian Press for the R&I Bank in 1989.