Dear Supporter

The customer union’s priorities for 2018, as decided by you

In our last newsletter we asked you to vote to help set the priorities for our Customer Union for Ethical Banking in 2018, and over 400 of you took part to tell us your views. We’ve analysed the results and read through the many insightful comments you provided us, and the main conclusions we draw are that:

1. making sure the Co-op Bank’s Ethical Policy stays in place and its integrity is maintained is the number one priority for most supporters, and

2. of the seven possible priorities we identified for 2018, all of them are important to you. All of the priorities we put to you were ranked as “important” or “very important” by over three quarters of respondents, telling us that we need to get on and do as much as possible.

Although they were all popular, your top priority for the Union was to engage with the bank on any upcoming review of the Ethical Policy. The prospect of a new review of the Ethical Policy was raised in the bank’s last Values and Ethics report in the summer, but at our gathering in Manchester in November last year we heard that the bank might delay this. We’ll check in with the bank on whether an Ethical Policy review is likely this year, but whenever it happens, it will be our top priority. In the meantime, we’ll keep close watch on the implementation of the current Policy and the bank’s reporting on it.

In equal second place were: developing dialogue with the bank's current owners (the US hedge funds) to advocate for them to return the bank to cooperative ownership as and when they sell their stake; and campaign for the bank to investigate options for returning to cooperative ownership and publish its findings. Plans to create a share fund to build a cooperative shareholding in the bank, and to develop a structured relationship with the bank, were ranked lower. We’ll act on these priorities and look to make contact with the biggest shareholders in the Co-op Bank as next steps.

Thanks to everyone that had their say, and we’ll keep you updated on our progress.

Your concerns about branch closures

One of the topics that came up most in the comments you made in response to our survey was branch closures and their impacts, especially on elderly or less mobile people. The Co-op Bank has plans to shut a further 27 branches in 2018, reducing its network from 95 to 68 branches. The bank has closed hundreds of branches since its disastrous merger with Britannia in 2008, and now has fewer than before the merger.

The Co-op is not the only bank closing branches - it’s happening across the banking sector, with 1,100 shutting in 2017. The reasons are fairly clear; fewer people are using branches, and more are banking online and using telephone banking. It’s still frustrating for the people that do rely on bank branches, but an article from last year concluded that efforts to stop branch closures rarely succeed.

You can read about which branches the bank is closing, and find the bank's impact assessments for each branch closure, on the bank’s website here. There’s also details on that page about how you can contact the bank if you want to make a complaint or ask questions about how branch closures might impact you. It’s also worth bearing in mind that you can access most day-to-day banking services from the Co-op Bank through your local post office, although this is no help in areas that have also lost their post office.

Growing the Union

Since our last newsletter, we've welcomed 90 new members to the Customer Union. This is a great start towards our aim for the year of doubling our membership from 1,200 members to 2,400. Many of you also suggested ways we might reach new members in your response to the survey, including through articles in newsletters of Credit Unions, the Co-operative Party and other Co-ops, for example. We’ll act on as many of these suggestions as we can - and if you have suggestions or contacts that might be able to help, do let us know by replying to this email.

We’ve also just been awarded a small (£1,000) grant from Midcounties Cooperative to help us engage with the wider co-operative movement to raise awareness of the Customer Union, so we can be more effective in our aims of holding the bank to account on ethics and perusing a return to co-operative ownership. We're looking forward to putting this to good use.

Renewal notices for members

In February most of our annual membership renewal reminders for Customer Union members are sent out. If you've received one and haven’t renewed yet, please do so now, as each member is really important at this stage of our small but growing campaign.

With best wishes,

The Save Our Bank team