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News Plus 14 Apr 2022 - 5 min read

Great Southern ‘competing on purpose’: How an unknown credit union, lost on younger set, rebranded as largest customer-owned bank; consideration doubled, marketshare following

By Sam Buckingham-Jones - Deputy Editor
Megan Keleher, CCO at Great Southern Bank

Being called a credit union before was absolutely problematic. All of our research said that 70 per cent of millennials didn't know what a credit union was," Great Southern Bank's Chief Customer Officer, Megan Keleher, says.

Nine months after the 75-year-old Credit Union Australia rebranded as Great Southern Bank, it has already eclipsed CUA in many consumer brand metrics. As it turns out, many millennials don’t know what a credit union does. Chief Customer Officer Megan Keleher says the rebrand was essential, and the company – the largest customer-owned bank in Australia – has its eye on doubling market share.  

What you need to know:

  • Great Southern Bank rebranded from Credit Union Australia and has already eclipsed its previous peaks in some key brand metrics.
  • The rebrand centred around millennials not knowing what a credit union was. Being known as a “bank” was an essential step to reach new customers and first home buyers, Chief Customer Officer Megan Keleher says.
  • There’s been a 28 per cent increase in new active customers. This is off a small base – Great Southern Bank has a roughly 1 per cent market share – but it’s a big step towards their goal of doubling share by 2024.
  • Customer conversion from awareness to consideration is at 32 per cent, almost double what CUA ever reached.

We saw brand is very much an enabler of growth. And in fact, we were seeing it prior to that, that the CUA brand was going to not be able to deliver the kind of growth that we wanted in the marketplace

Megan Keleher, Great Southern Bank, Chief Customer Officer

A credit union is “a cooperative association that makes small loans to its members at low interest rates and offers other banking services”, according to Merriam-Webster.  Effectively, it’s a member-owned bank. A union, but for credit.  

For Credit Union Australia (CUA) back in mid-2021, however, there was one major problem - young people just didn’t know that. The average age of their customers was almost 50 years old. They were reaching very few younger customers in an extremely competitive market. The percentage of people converting from awareness, knowing about CUA, to consideration, actively considering using its services, peaked at 18 per cent. 

And so, last year the company re-branded. After 75 years as CUA, it became Great Southern Bank. It is still a credit union, but a new name and renewed focus on brand, a determination to capture first home buyers, a new purpose and major sports sponsorships have seen it smash many of CUA’s brand metrics – within nine months.

“We saw brand is very much an enabler of growth. And in fact, we were seeing it prior to that, that the CUA brand was going to not be able to deliver the kind of growth that we wanted in the marketplace,” Great Southern Bank’s Chief Customer Officer, Megan Keleher, says. 

“Being called a credit union before was absolutely problematic. All of our research said that 70 per cent of millennials didn't know what a credit union was and didn't see that it was relevant to them. So the early indications are that we're changing. We've overcome that barrier, which is terrific.”

Brisbane Heat logo on shirt before and after

Brisbane Heat shirts: Left, the CUA logo; Right, the Great Southern Bank logo.

The strategy: FHBs, Purpose

Great Southern Bank is the largest customer-owned bank (i.e. credit union) in the country, but is a relatively small player overall. Its market share sits at about 1 per cent, and it’s slightly lower than that for mortgages.

“The brand was absolutely positioned about gaining relevance with a younger audience, millennials, and particularly around first home buyers,” Keleher says.

“It does get more challenging for first time buyers every year – and almost every week this year. But the market did decline for first time buyers by 20 per cent and we doubled our market share in first time buyers. And we were specifically looking to see an uplift in that market. So we're extremely pleased with that result.”

The bank has been working with indie creative agency Richards Rose and media agency Carat. They have run a series of brand TVCs, called Happily Clever After, that emphasise home ownership – and ways the bank helps customers get there.

“The biggest change for us was about deciding to compete on purpose and competing on the purpose of helping all Australians own their own home,” Keleher says.

“Realigning the organisation around that purpose has been a significant piece of work.”

Likewise, a six-year-old partnership with Big Bash League cricket team Brisbane Heat, and a three-year deal with AFL club Carlton have pushed the new name’s recognition levels higher. If no-one knows what the three-letter acronym is, its place on the jersey is somewhat redundant.

Is that an insurance company? Who actually is CUA? What does that mean?” Keleher says. “So that's been part of the brand strategy, as well as to make sure bank is in there every time. And then there's a leverage strategy around this sponsorship investment.”

The company recently build a tiny home at the Melbourne Cricket Ground to promote its first home buyer focus.

Increasingly, home buyers are using brokers to find the best deal and being on a broker’s list is essential. If a customer has never heard of Great Southern Bank when a broker mentions it, it’s unlikely the prospective customer will choose an unknown. That’s part of the company’s challenge.

The bank has recently released a podcast through Southern Cross Austereo’s LiSTNR app that goes, step by step, through the process of buying a home. It has doubled the internally-set targets.

We can see a direct correlation with the number of times Great Southern Bank is searched from a Google perspective, with funds into the bank.

Megan Keleher, Great Southern Bank, Chief Customer Officer

The metrics

An unusual side-effect of the change in name, brand campaign, AFL and BBL sponsorships, and focus on purpose, has been the increase in deposits. Great Southern Bank is a “minnow” compared to the big four, Keleher says, with $14 billion worth of assets in Australia, but targeting first home buyers has meant people are saving more. “We can see a direct correlation with the number of times Great Southern Bank is searched from a Google perspective, with funds into the bank,” she says. “So it has a knock on effect.”

But the key figures have been the increase in consumer metrics like consideration, which clearly flow through to new customers.

There has been a 28 per cent year-on-year rise in new, active customers. The average age of new customers is under 30 – a drop of 20 years from the overall customer base. Prompted brand awareness has more than doubled since launch, reaching 15 per cent at the end of January. Customer conversion from awareness to consideration is at 32 per cent – ahead of Bendigo Bank, Suncorp and Bank of Queensland, Keleher says. The bank has doubled its market share and lending to first home buyers. These are all key stats that demonstrate how the past year’s strategy has been working – well.

“It's been the conversion to consideration that has blown our mind,” she says. “It's more than double what CUA’s ever was. And I think that that's a massive proof point of saying that ‘Credit Union Australia’ was a barrier to entry as opposed to being called a bank.”

The company has a three-year growth strategy called G24, with ambitious goals to double market share. “Market share is hard fought in the current environment,” Keleher says. “It is a highly competitive and highly cluttered market at the moment … we're looking to double our market share in that time frame, and we're well underway.”

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