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A New Aussie Bank For 2000

Australian rural stock and station agent, Elders Ltd, is to become Australia's first new bank of the 21st century after being granted a full banking licence yesterday. John Howard reports.

Hard on the heels of the 1997 Wallis inquiry into increased banking competition, Elders Ltd had been working for the past 18 months to acquire a fully-fledged banking licence which was granted yesterday.

There is still a public backlash across Australia against current banks over rural closures and high bank charges.

To be called Elders Rural Bank its chairman and former Federal treasurer, John Dawkins, said the joint venture between Elders and Bendigo Bank would see its $800 million loan book increase to $1 billion within 12 months as a fully-fledged bank.

"The new bank will focus on rural Australia at a time when other corporations are seen to be withdrawing," financial services minister Joe Hockey said yesterday.

The existing 300 Elders branches will become part of Elders Rural Bank and offer ATM machines, Visa debit and credit cards, EFTPOS nationally and internationally, cheque accounts as well as phone and Internet banking. 400 branches are expected within two years.

"It will also provide an opportunity for anyone in Australia who would like their savings invested in rural Australia or agriculture to make their deposits with the bank," Mr Dawkins said.

Elders' capital city offices are also expected to become part of the rural network.

South Australian Farmers Federation president Dale Perkins said his organisation would support Elders' entry into the rural banking market.

"The major banks have been pulling a lot of branches out of rural regional areas which we've opposed," he said.

"Wool and livestock have been the cornerstone of our business, but while we will service those businesses just as well in the future, the emphasis will also be on finance, insurance and real estate," said Phil Keen an existing Elders' branch manager.

In the joint venture Bendigo Bank will undertake the banking operations while Elders' will be involved in the distribution of the services through its branches.

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