Next Steps for Save Our Bank
It was not until November 29th that we knew for sure that the Co-op Group's recapitalisation plan – giving a majority stake in the Bank to private investors including six hedge funds – was to go ahead. Until that point there was still a chance that the Bank could have gone into 'resolution' – and been taken over by the Bank of England.
Clarifying where we are with the Ethical Policy
In the pre-Christmas period, we have been focusing on the Ethical Policy. We want to ensure it is not watered down. Save our Bank was able to talk directly to the Co-operative Group chief executive, Euan Sutherland this week. This has given us a clearer understanding of where the Ethical Policy is now. We were told:
- The current stated Ethical Policy will remain the operating policy of the Bank though the transition to new owners and until further notice.
- The bank will be conducting a survey of customers in the first half of 2014 on where they want the Ethical Policy to go in future.
- The new Ethics Committee will use this survey to design and propose a refreshed Ethical Policy for the future around mid 2014.
The new Articles of Association have now been agreed by a General Meeting. They didn't have everything we wanted, but offer some protection to the Ethical Policy. SaveOurBank will therefore move from campaigning on the Articles to keeping a close watch on – and trying to contribute to – these plans.
We are now asking for Ethical Policy declines (the deals turned away by the bank because of ethics) to be reported publicly every quarter so that we can all keep close track of the new owners’ commitment to ethics. This will help build trust in the bank. Without this, we would have to wait until the bank’s Sustainability Report comes out in Autumn 2015 to see what has happened in 2014.
Focus in the new year
In addition to working on trying to maintain the current Ethical Policy there are three main areas that we will be working on:
(a) Ownership issues
None of our supporters are happy with hedge funds as owners and most want the Bank to return to majority co-operative ownership (see our survey results). There are many ideas as to how this might happen already on the website - with suggestions ranging from some form of investment fund for customers to buy shares collectively, to persuading overseas mutuals to take a stake.
At Save Our Bank we are pretty sure that the hedge funds are not looking to be long-term owners, so our role will be to try to influence the nature of the long-term ownership of the Bank.
(b) A mass switch
For our negotiations with 'economic rationalists' like hedge funds to carry any weight, we need a credible ‘plan B’ for what to do if the ethical standards we want are not retained. We need to be looking at where we could all go if we need to make a 'mass switch'. A big enough constituency of people might be able to persuade another current account provider to think seriously about creating a similar Ethical Policy in order to capture this new block of customers. Some supporters think there may be mileage in a mass shift from mainstream banking to local economies – for example credit unions, building societies and investment in community energy projects.
(c) Organising the campaign
At the moment, the Save our Bank campaign is just one of a few campaigns being run by Ethical Consumer. We are delighted by the support that the campaign has received. Now we need to think about potential formalisation and fund-raising. Given that Ethical Consumer's own resources are limited, in order for it to be successful in the future it may make sense to create a new organisation. At present there are four options we are looking at:
(i) Some kind of investment fund that will sell shares to individuals and use this money to build up a pro-ethical/mutual shareholding in the Bank – in addition to lobbying and campaigning.
(ii) Some kind of 'union of customers’ whereby elected members can negotiate and campaign with various parties.
(iii) Becoming a shareholder campaign group, which seeks to represent any individual pro-ethics shareholders.
(iv) Remaining a campaign of Ethical Consumer but organising specific fund-raising and supporter networks within it.
Or it could be a hybrid – combining some or all of these features.
Consultation with members
With co-operation in our blood, we are not about to embark down any of these routes without seeking advice and feedback from our thousands of signed-up supporters. We are currently developing our website's Open Forum to help much of this take place online. But there are other actions we could take such as organising events, collaborating with other campaigns in this area, or running more online surveys. So do let us know what you think. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet using hashtag #saveourbank or contribute to the Open Forum.
We do not know what the future will hold. But we do know that, if we stick together, then we have a real chance of preserving core elements of this model ethical and co-operative organisation.