A Customer Union to take back the Co-op Bank: Crowdfunder FAQ

Contents

  1. What is this crowdfunding project all about?
  2. What are the objectives of the Customer Union?
  3. Why is a Customer Union needed?
  4. Why the name 'Customer Union for Ethical Banking'?
  5. How will the Customer Union work in practice?
  6. What will be the legal structure and governance of the Customer Union?
  7. What will the money raised in the Crowdfunder be used for?
  8. How will people have their say on the direction of the Union?
  9. How will the Customer Union buy shares in the bank?
  10. Will there be a fee to join the Union?
  11. What will be expected of me if I become a member?
  12. I am a business customer of the bank – can my business / charity / community group become a member of the Union?
  13. What is the relationship between the Customer Union and the trade union Unite?
  14. What will the Customer Union do if the Co-operative Group sells its remaining 20% shareholding?
  15. How does this relate to Co-operative membership? Are you creating "two layers" of membership?
  16. Is the Customer Union politically impartial?
  17. I don't want to provide bank details over the net, can I pay by cheque?

1. What is this crowdfunding project all about?

We are raising funds to support the launch of a Customer Union for customers of the Co-operative Bank. We're calling it the Customer Union for Ethical Banking, or CUEB (see below). This will be an independent co-operative, formed of Co-operative Bank customers, dedicated to holding the Co-operative Bank to account on its ethical promises, and working to build a larger co-operative stake in the bank. It's a unique idea - we believe it will be the first formal customer union. It has some similarity with football Supporters' Trusts.


2. What are the objectives of the Customer Union?

The Union will have two primary objectives:

i. To hold the bank accountable to high ethical standards, both in terms of making sure its ethical policy remains in place and implemented, and also in how it treats staff and customers, and

ii. To help the bank return to some form of co-operative ownership or control.


3. Why is a Customer Union needed?

After the Co-op Bank suffered near-collapse in 2013, The Co-operative Group sold 80% of its shareholding in the bank to private investors – predominantly US-based hedge funds. A group of concerned customers formed the Save Our Bank in October 2013 to ensure the bank’s new owners kept the ethical policy in place, and to help the bank return to some form of co-operative ownership and control. To do this, we need to turn the Save Our Bank campaign into something more permanent - a body that truly can represent customers, keep a close watch on the bank, and gather funds together to build a new co-operative share in the bank. Other new owners and shareholders may come and go during this period too, and we need to keep them focussed on the value of the ethical policy.


4. Why the name 'Customer Union for Ethical Banking'?

Our customer union needs a formal name as it is legally registered as a co-operative. It can't be called the Co-operative Bank Customer Union, because the use of the Co-op Bank's name would breach the rules of the Financial Conduct Authority. So, we will call the co-operative "the Customer Union for Ethical Banking". This also gives us more flexibility if ever a time comes when we need decide as a group to move on from the Co-operative Bank. 


5. How will the Customer Union work in practice?

The Union will try to attract a large enough group of members to maintain a small secretariat which can work towards its objectives and represent members’ interests. Anyone who is a Co-op Bank customer can become a member. At first the secretariat will include three people working a few hours each week, but will hopefully expand over time. Members will be consulted regularly using an online forum to discuss the direction and actions of the Union.


6. What will be the legal structure and governance of the Customer Union?

The Union will be a Co-operative Society, so it will be owned by its members. It will have a board of directors democratically elected from its members each year, and a campaign team made up of staff and volunteers. The board will meet quarterly to assign tasks and the management committee at least monthly. The society’s rules are downloadable here.


7. What will the money raised in the Crowdfunder be used for?

If we meet our fundraising goal of £15,000, we will have enough funds to pay the legal costs of setting up the Union, pay for the development of an e-commerce enabled website to manage people's membership fees, pay for our online hosting and other web service providers (mailing lists) and cover some of the staff costs for the day to day administration of the Union. (Note we will not be using these funds to buy shares in the bank.)


8. How will people have their say on the direction of the Union?

As a formal co-operative society, we will need to have an Annual General Meeting (AGM) once a year. We will do our best to ensure people can attend this remotely (e.g. via teleconferencing or Skype) as well as in person. The AGM will give members a chance to elect the board. Other than that, we will use surveys and other online participatory tools to allow all members who want to have their say to get more involved in setting the direction and policy of the co-operative


9. How will the Customer Union buy shares in the bank?

As a co-operative society, we would have the power to purchase shares of in The Co-operative Bank plc under the name of the Customer Union. We will not buy shares with the funds from this Crowdfunder, but when the Union is set up we plan to ask members to contribute to a fund, and use the proceeds of this fund to purchase shares. Buying even a small shareholding in the name of the Customer Union will start to increase the Co-operative shareholding in the bank and give us a greater voice at the bank to campaign for our objectives.


10. Will there be a fee to join the Union?

Yes, after surveying our members earlier this year, we have decided to charge an annual membership fee of £12 a year. Those who support this Crowdfunder will automatically become members of the union for the first year, meaning they are co-owners of the new co-operative.


11. What will be expected of me if I become a member?

We only expect that you pay the annual fee, and that you are an account holder with The Co-operative Bank (including smile or Britannia). Other than that, you will be invited to participate in discussions and surveys about the direction of the Union, but without any obligation.


12. I am a business customer of the bank – can my business / charity / community group become a member of the Union?

Yes! The cost of joining as a business or organisation will be the same as for an individual, although if you are a large organisation, or can otherwise afford to pay more, an extra donation is of course welcome via the higher level reward packages we have offered as part of the Crowdfunder.


13. What is the relationship between the Customer Union and the trade union Unite?

We’ve developed a good working relationship with the financial sector team at Unite, as it is one of the main trade unions representing Co-op Bank staff, but we have no formal relationship with them.


14. What will the Customer Union do if the Co-operative Group sells its remaining 20% shareholding?

We want to see an increased co-operative stake in the Co-op Bank, to move the bank back towards co-operative control, so obviously we want the Co-operative Group to maintain its 20% shareholding in the bank. But we know there is no guarantee that this will happen, and the Group could decide to sell. If this happens, we would campaign for the Group work to ensure that this 20% remains co-operatively owned. If we can't do that, we will need to review our strategy and decide whether we continue to work with the bank to change it from within, or whether we look elsewhere for ethical banking. As a co-operative, we will make that decision collectively, if the time comes. 


15. How does this relate to Co-operative membership? Are you creating "two layers" of membership?

Membership of the Customer Union is completely separate from membership of the Co-operative Group. Membership of the Co-op Group gives you a stake in how that business is run, and as the Group still owns 20% of the Bank, in theory it gives you some ownership of the bank as well, but this is indirect. We want to build a direct customer shareholding in the Co-op Bank.


16. Is the Customer Union politically impartial?

Yes, we have no formal links to any political parties.


17. I don't want to provide bank details over the net, can I pay by cheque?

Yes, we have an arrangement with Ethical Consumer magazine to accept cheques on behalf of the campaign. Cheques will be banked if and only if the Crowdfunder target of £15,000 is reached by 15 December, otherwise they will be destroyed.

Please send your cheque, made payable to Ethical Consumer Research Association Ltd to the address below. Please include a note with the cheque saying:

  • That the cheque is your pledge for the Save Our Bank Crowdfunder.
  • Your name and address
  • Your email address

If you have access to a printer you can download and print this document to save you time.

Send to: Save Our Bank Campaign, c/o Ethical Consumer, Unit 21, 41 Old Birley Street, Manchester, M15 5RF