The Commonwealth Bank was established in 1911 under the Commonwealth Bank Act and, unusually for an Australian bank of the time, was empowered to operate both savings and general banking. The bank’s first branch opened its doors in Melbourne in 1912, and also started traded through Australia Post agencies, an arrangement that remains to this day. The bank moved its headquarters to Sydney in 1916, and in 1920 started to take over central bank powers including responsibility for issuing Australian bank notes.
In the 1920s and 30s, Commonwealth Bank continued to expand its role in Australia’s central banking. Emergency legislation introduced during the second world war handed almost all central banking powers to the Commonwealth Bank, and these powers were used to expand the Australian economy after the end of the war. At the end of the 1950s, concerns over their dual role in the central and commercial sectors caused the government to split the bank. The central banking responsibilities were handed to the Reserve Bank of Australia while the Commonwealth Banking Corporation (CBC) continued to operate its commercial functions.
Commonwealth Bank Group diversified into the fields of home insurance and travel during the 1960s and 70s, and in 1974 launched Australia’s first credit card, called Bankcard. The bank later introduced credit cards provided by MasterCard (1984) and Visa (1993). Deregulation and the entry of foreign banks in the mid-1980s was a challenging time for Commonwealth Bank, a period that culminated in the organisation converting from a government-owned body to a fully-privatised company.
In 1991, CommBank merged with State Bank of Victoria to create Australia’s largest domestic bank. The bank introduced Maestro and Cirrus debit card services in 1993, launched an internet site in 1995, followed by a totally online banking service in 1997. Australian Banking and Finance Awards named Commonwealth Bank as Bank of the Decade in 1999, and Best Bank in 1996, 2000, and 2002. In the 21st Century, the Commonwealth Bank has further expanded its Asian and Pacific operations, strengthened its customer base and broadened its role as a diverse financial services institution.
The bank has a shareholder base totalling more than 800,000, has over 1,000 branches across Australia, almost 3,800 Australia Post agencies, 4,100 ATMs, supports 190,000 EFTPOS terminals and has 10 call centre’s answering more than 120 million calls each year.