Australia’s top 100 co-ops buck economic trends to record 11% revenue growth

‘With global instability, the post pandemic world and climate concerns, co-ops and mutuals are more vital than ever to lead the way towards sustainable and equitable futures’

Australia’s top 100 co-operative and mutual businesses defied a raft of global and domestic economic headwinds to boost revenue by 10.8% to AU$37.7bn in the 2022 financial year, figures reveal.

The tenth annual National Mutual Economy (NME) Report, produced by the Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals (BCCM), also showed strong asset and earnings growth during the year.

Earnings across the top 100 continued to grow at an average annual rate of 27.1%, although profitability in the largest sectors of agribusiness, financial services, health insurance and motoring was hit by global energy and commodity price volatility.

BCCM chief executive Melina Morrison said the report demonstrated the robust nature of member-owned businesses, which were well positioned to withstand periods of economic uncertainty due to their lean operating structures.

“With global instability, the post pandemic world and climate concerns looming large, co-operative and mutual enterprises are more vital than ever to lead the way towards sustainable and equitable futures,” she added. “Co-ops and mutuals, although often overlooked, play a critical role in shoring up supply chains through investment in domestic infrastructure to improve sovereign capacity.”

Top 10 CMEs by turnover in FY2021-22

  • CBH (WA) $6.23bn
  • HCF (NSW) $3.52bn
  • Capricorn Society (WA) $2.93bn
  • RACQ (QLD) $2.05bn
  • HBF Health (WA) $1.86bn
  • Australian Unity (VIC) $1.36bn
  • RAC (WA) $1.23bn
  • Teachers Federation Health (NSW) $863m
  • RAA (SA) $731m
  • Catholic Church Insurance (VIC) $726m

The NME report, which is a barometer of the health of the sector, was launched last month in Sydney at a summit of CEOs from Australia’s top 100 co-ops and mutuals. They discussed challenges including opportunities to drive growth to achieve scale, and ways to measure the value created by member-owned businesses.

Related: ILO conference looks at how statistics can support co-op movement

“Like other business sectors, Australia’s co-ops and mutuals are grappling with the challenges posed by geo-political events abroad as well as domestic pressures such as high interest rates and a tight labour market,” said Morrison.

“Importantly, though, co-ops and mutuals have proved their resilience, continuing to perform strongly, just as they did through the pandemic and the floods and bushfires that impacted so many Australians in recent years.

“Longevity is a hallmark of this business model with 68per cent of the top 100 operating for more than 50 years.”

BCCM chief executive Melina Morrison (image: BCCM)

The profitability of agribusiness co-ops was impacted in 2022 by the war in Ukraine, which simultaneously caused sharply higher grain prices on commodity markets and increasing fertiliser input costs, resulting in revenue growth but also a decline in profitability.

The number of co-operative and mutual businesses rose slightly during 2022, despite consolidation in key sectors such as banking and financial services.

There were 1,848 co-ops and mutuals in Australia at the end of fiscal 2022, compared to 1,832 at the end of the previous year.

The report found that Australia’s co-ops and mutuals had a combined active membership of 33.3 million (up from 31.7 million previously) and employed at least 76,000 people at the end of 2022.

Related: BCCM chief gives evidence to Australian Senate on value of co-op sector

While more Australians than ever are members of at least one co-op or mutual, Morrison said recent polling by the BCCM showed that most Australians were still largely unaware of the business model.

“Under-representation of co-ops and mutuals in university courses such as law, accounting and business studies has undoubtedly contributed to this lack of awareness,” she said. “Given the solid performance and longevity of the businesses this was a missed opportunity to enlist the assistance of co-ops and mutuals to address cost of living and other mounting pressures on Australians.”

The report showed that the greatest number of co-ops and mutuals were in the financial services sector, followed by health insurance and agribusiness.

The West Australian grain handling group CBH retained its position as Australia’s largest co-op, with turnover of $6.23bn, a significant increase on the $3.99bn recorded in fiscal 2021 and a net profit of $497.7m. CBH is also Australia’s third-largest privately owned business according to Ibis world Australia’s Top 500 Private Companies 2022.

CBH was followed on the top turnover table by health insurer HCF ($3.52bn), automotive parts co-op Capricorn Society ($2.93bn) and Queensland-based motoring club RACQ ($2.05bn).

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