Welcome to this February newsletter from the Customer Union for Ethical Banking, the independent union for Co-operative Bank customers.

In this newsletter: the bank’s results; our upcoming meeting with the bank; our 2020 strategy; searching for a new board member for the Union; and competitors move on fossil fuels.

Co-op Bank results 

2019 resultsThe bank released its annual results last Thursday, and posted a slightly larger pre-tax loss than last year. However in comments to us, the bank pointed out that after accounting for the final rush of PPI claims before the deadline (which affected most banks), then the performance is ahead of expectations. The bank also pointed to strong growth in its mortgage and small business banking.

The bank’s Chief Executive, Andrew Bester, was on Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday (listen here from 2hrs 49 mins) commenting on the results. Bester emphasized the bank’s credentials as “the original ethical bank” as well as the work it has been doing to tackle legacy issues and upgrade its technology. Asked whether the bank was strong enough to survive as an independent, he said “absolutely”.

Meeting with the bank postponed - still time to send your questions!

Last month we asked you to send in comments and questions that you would like us to raise with the Co-op Bank at our quarterly meeting with them. That meeting was due to happen in early February but has now been postponed until March 4th, so there is still time for you to send us your questions by reply to this email. Note that we only raise questions connected to the bank’s ethical positioning and broader values, rather than customer service matters.

Report from 2019 Gathering and the Customer Union’s strategy for 2020

Gathering 2019We have published a report on our 2019 Gathering, held last November, on our website here. Following on from our discussions with members at the Gathering we’ve also set the core elements of our strategy for 2020. These will be our priorities for the year ahead

  1. Formal engagement with the bank on the basis of our recognition agreement, especially around (a) the bank’s 2020 Ethical Policy review; (b) the bank’s Values and Ethics report; (c) SME banking and ethics; (d) growing our membership; and (e) encouraging a return to campaigning
  2. Engaging Customer Union members regularly prior to quarterly meetings with the bank.
  3. Growing membership through social media presence and potentially with help from the bank’s own communications channels.
  4. Develop a specialist panel of expert advisers that can guide our development of a strategy for influencing the bank’s ownership
  5. Organise a 2020 Gathering for members and supporters.
Please do get in touch if you have comments or questions about this strategy.
Election of a new director for our board
Coop marqueThe Customer Union is governed by a board of six members. Recently one of our board members (Tom Druitt) has had to stand down because of pressures of work elsewhere.  We thank Tom for the time he gave to the Customer Union.  
As a cooperative, the Customer Union will be holding an election to fill this vacancy. So, we'd like to hear from any member of the Customer Union who is interested in standing for election and joining the board.

The board meets quarterly by Zoom video conference to oversee the general strategy and management of the organisation. If you are interested, please send an email to info@saveourbank.org. We will then send out a form to you asking for more details which we can then distribute to members prior to an election.

Paid up members of the Customer Union will be able to vote in the election. It costs just £12 a year to be a member. You can join on line here. If you’re unsure whether you are a member then please drop us a line by reply to this email.
The candidate with the most votes will have a place on Customer Union’s board, alongside the other five directors. See this webpage for more details about what being a director entails.

Banks under pressure on fossil fuel finance everywhere
Oil refineryLastly, 2020 looks like it is shaping up to be a year in which banks everywhere are put under sustained pressure to stop driving climate change through their finance. Royal Bank of Scotland, which owns NatWest (and will be changing its name to NatWest later in the year), became the first of the UK’s big banks to make a meaningful commitment to phase out its finance for fossil fuel companies, including oil and gas producers that don't have a ‘transition plan’ in place, as well as coal companies. Barclays will face a shareholder resolution at its Annual Meeting this year to take similar steps.
The Co-op Bank is well out in front on this issue, having blazed a trail by refusing finance for any company whose core business is in extraction or production of oil, gas and coal way back in 1998. The bank also joined in last September’s global climate strike, calling for “an end to the fossil fuel age”. As the role of banks in fuelling climate change rises in public awareness, the bank has an opportunity to strongly assert its leadership, but also a challenge to keep the distance between itself and its competitors. Something to bear in mind for the upcoming Ethical Policy review, which we’ll all be hearing more about soon.

With best wishes

The Save Our Bank team

Have you joined the Customer Union yet? It costs £12 a year to be a member of the first ever customer union co-operative, and help us ensure the Co-op Bank sticks to its principles. It only takes a few moments to sign up here.