Campaign Update August 2015

Dear Save Our Bank supporter,

As you know, our main focus over the last few months has been on transforming the Save Our Bank campaign into an established organisation - a union of Co-operative Bank customers. It’s taken a while, but we’re now almost ready to launch a crowdfunding campaign to raise the funds needed to get it off the ground.

We have also taken a close look at the bank’s new report on how it is implementing its ethical policy, which we think you’ll be interested in. It’s a lot to report, so make yourself a cuppa and read on.

Moving forward with the customer union

A permanent customer union would be able to keep an eye on the bank and draw attention to any actions that are out of line with its new enhanced ethical policy. With enough members it would have real influence on a bank that is trying to re-establish its reputation for ethics and integrity, and exercise real economic muscle if it needs to. In addition, it can also grow a “co-operative stake” in the bank, and campaign for its eventual return to majority co-operative ownership.

We asked your views on these plans earlier in the year, and since you gave a high level of support we’ve been working away on establishing its organisational structure and deciding how it will operate. 

We’ve taken advice on the creation of a legal form for the union. The Co-operative Bank Customer union - name to be confirmed - will be a co-operative, owned and controlled by its members. They will be asked to pay a small annual fee of £12, based on your feedback, to join the co-operative as a member. These funds will support the administration of the organisation, and to help it grow.

We will be launching a crowd funding campaign in September to raise a small sum to cover the setting up costs. Once we have attracted enough members to make the organisation sustainable we will start the process of raising capital to buy a small shareholding in the bank, to be owned co-operatively.

Are the vultures still circling?

The Co-operative Group still owns a 20% share in the bank. This remains the largest stake in the bank held by any one organisation, and gives the Group crucial rights like the ability to nominate a director of the bank. It’s also the existing co-operative stake in the bank that we would aim to build on with the customer union.

So we’re concerned by one news report in the Times that says several hedge funds are “understood to be keen either to increase their stakes or to buy into the business”. (The full news story is behind a paywall, but you will get the idea from the preview).

Now, on the one hand, the interest from investors in owning more of the bank is a good sign they have confidence in its future. But we don’t want to see private ownership of the bank increased, particularly if that is by reducing or buying out the Co-operative Group shareholding. We’re talking to the Co-operative Group Members Council to look into this, find out if it’s just newspaper gossip, and make it very clear that we want the Co-operative Group to maintain its stake.

The bank’s new values and ethics report

The bank has just released its new Values and Ethics Report, which reports on its adherence to its ethical policy over 2014. We want to pay careful attention to such reports, to keep an eye on whether the bank is sticking to its promises. We’re pleased to see the bank is continuing to report in an open and transparent way and that the report is still independently audited.

The report tells us that the bank turned away just four potential customers for breaching its ethical policy last year, compared to 12 in 2013 and 42 the year before. This it says is the result of its refocusing on small businesses and retail customers, which makes sense. The businesses they said “no” to are tucked away in footnotes, but we thought you might be interested to know. They were:

  • a campaigning group with evidence of discrimination against transgender people;
  • two geological services businesses providing services considered strategic to fossil fuel extraction; and
  • a campaign group whose account signatories had recently received criminal convictions for involvement with violent and illegal activities.

We think it’s great that the bank is taking a zero tolerance approach to discrimination against transgender people and refusing to support it – it’s this kind of brave stance that has always made the bank different.

The report also describes how the bank is continuing to lend money to support the co-operative sector, charities, social enterprises and credit unions, and it highlights the bank’s new Living Wage Accreditation. (Don’t be confused by the Chancellor’s recent announcement of a “national living wage” – the real Living Wage is a rate set by an independent foundation, and it’s already higher for London than the Chancellor says the national minimum wage will reach by 2020.) This meets a promise the bank set out in its new policy in January – a welcome step, even if most of the other high street banks got there first.

Finally, the bank promises “a new campaign partnership that will actively engage our customers and colleagues” to be announced before the end of the year.

You can read the report here.

That’s all for now - thanks for your continued support. We’re really looking forward to sharing the crown-funding campaign with you – stay tuned for news on this next month.

Best wishes

Save Our Bank team