The Trust had its origins in the Dunedin Savings Bank, established in 1864 by public spirited citizens seeking to encourage thrift within the community, and distribute surplus profits to charitable causes. The establishment of the Bank was sanctioned by the Government under the Savings Bank Act 1858, which however failed to make provision for the disbursement of surplus profits for charitable purposes which was a key objective when the Bank was established. This was rectified in 1878 with the passing of the Dunedin Savings Bank Profits Bill. The Bank's first gift of 7,515 pounds was donated to the Otago Benevolent Trust in 1879, which in todays terms is over $1 million.
For the next 110 years the Bank steadily grew and with expansion came the establishment of branches, the first in South Dunedin in 1925. To reflect its Otago wide reach, the Bank changed its name to the Otago Savings Bank and subsequently Trust Bank Otago.
In 1988 the Government restructured trustee savings banks and gifted ownership of Trust Bank Otago to the community through the establishment of the Trust Bank Otago Community Trust. It appointed Trustees to manage the Trust's operations, including the making of donations from its dividends to community groups for charitable, cultural, philanthropic, recreational and other purposes that provide a benefit to the community.
Amalgamation of the regional banks resulted in the establishment of Trust Bank New Zealand Ltd. The Otago Community Trust's 100% shareholding in Trust Bank Otago Ltd was exchanged for a 13.5% holding in Trust Bank New Zealand Ltd (TBNZ).
With such high value attached to a single investment Trustees considered it prudent to spread the investment risk. In 1994 the Trust sold half its shares in TBNZ and in 1996 sold the remaining half to Westpac which had made a takeover offer for TBNZ. The sale ended a 132 year ownership of the trustee savings bank by the community.
While links with the Trust Bank were severed in 1996 the legacy of the Bank lives on in the Trust. The Bank proudly identified itself as “the people’s bank”. It was founded by Dunedin people, encouraging Dunedin industry and enterprise and ploughed its profits back into its area, it became a community asset for over 100 years with high standards of integrity and a desire to serve the community. It is this legacy that lives on in the Otago Community Trust.
Income from the Trust's diverse international investments fund today's projects. Funds distributed to organisations and institutions throughout Otago by the Trust since its inception in 1988 is in excess of $115,000,000.