Mutual sector overcomes pandemic headwinds

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The top 100 co-operatives and mutuals have defied the economic impacts of the pandemic; the sector’s revenues grew a record 10% to $34.4 billion during 2020/2021.

The latest National Mutual Economy Report released by the Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals also showed that Australia’s top 100 member-owned businesses recorded strong earnings growth over the last year.

This year’s report found Australian co-operative and mutual enterprises had a combined active membership base of 31.7 million which generated $202.9 billion in revenue, managed over $1.28 trillion in assets.

Though, the total number of active co-operative and mutual enterprises had decreased slightly since 2019. This was reflective of a wave of mergers and consolidatory actions that resulted in larger enterprises but a smaller overall number.

The profitability across the top co-operatives and mutuals showed an average annual growth rate of 28.7% in pre-tax earnings across a five-year period. The strongest performances were recorded by those operating in agribusiness, motoring, and financial services.

In the superannuation sector, the 34 member-owned industry funds saw a significant rebound in gross annual revenue and profitability following a large downturn in 2020.

The report said: “The pandemic impacted the Australian economy, the financial markets and generated significant unemployment, all resulting in a significant loss of superannuation contributions and investment income.”

Nevertheless, the long-term financial performance of member-owned super funds has been strong.

“The sector continues to witness strong development with the five-year trend reporting 16.4% growth in assets,” the report said.

Commenting on the findings, Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals chief executive Melina Morrison said: “The sector’s return to growth last year, after a difficult 2019/2020 demonstrated the resilience of the business model and the purpose-driven ethos that lies at the heart of all co-ops and mutuals.”

“It is pleasing to see the sector rebound strongly despite the challenges posed by COVID-19 as well as recent climate related disasters such as bushfires and flooding.”

Morrison was also pleased about how co-operatives and mutuals had led the way on gender diversity.

The report showed 17% of the top 100 co-ops and mutuals had a female chief executive, up from just 3% in 2016. Comparatively, ASX 200 companies have showed no improvement over the same period.

The representation of women chairs also improved with 21% of the top 100 co-ops and mutuals chaired by a female in 2021, up from 15% in 2016.

“Significant progress has been made, yet gender inequalities continue to limit the opportunities of women,” the report stipulated.

“In Australia, women make up 46% of the workforce but are underrepresented in leadership positions in the corporate sector.”

In a statement, Morrison concluded: “It’s unclear how the events of the pandemic and its impacts will affect the long-term representation of women in Australia’s workforce, but we know that further gains in gender diversity will only stem from continued commitment to co-operative values that promote inclusion.”

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