When Save Our Bank was set up the Co-operative Bank was in crisis. A rescue bid left the bank in mostly private hands - just 20% stayed with the former owners, The Co-operative Group. Soon there were the revelations about Paul Flowers that added to the sense of crisis.
Many customers decided that they no longer believed in the bank. They didn't trust it to stick to its principles. They wanted a co-operative bank, owned by its customers rather than hedge funds. And they left in large numbers.
We set up Save Our Bank because we thought that the world-leading ethical policy, gudied by customers, was a valuable asset that should not be thrown away. We didn't see that bringing the bank back under some form of co-operative control was necessariliy a lost cause.
So we said "don't switch yet" and thousands of customers supported us. Crowd power gave real influence. That is why we are now setting up a permanent co-operative customer union, the Customer Union for Ethical Banking, ready to keep an eye on the bank and to start the long process of building a new co-operative stake. You can help us by pledging to join the union here.
Of course, we cannot be sure that we will succeed in keeping the bank true to its stated principles. The time might come when it is better to leave en masse - but that can only happen once. When the union has been set up that decision will be in the hands of its members.
Now with the recent news that the bank has told a number of organisations offering support to Palestine to close their accounts, many supporters are - rightly - dismayed.
Many have contacted us to say this is the last straw and that they will close their accounts.
We think the bank is gravely mistaken in the action it has taken. We think at the bank they could have done much more to ensure that bona fide support groups could pass the tests they say the bank must make. We are calling on the bank to make good what it can now (several of the groups have already moved), and put in place controls to stop this kind of mistake in the future. We are pressing the bank to help groups that have contacted us and that wish to keep their accounts.
But we are not closing our accounts. We are sticking with the bank. We still think there is a lot worth saving.
In recent months:
- The bank has announced a £1m fund to support co-op development in the UK. This is what our supporters wanted. It is a very significant contribution.
- The bank has signed the Paris pledge not to support businesses involved in coal production - the biggest bank in the world to do so.
- The bank proudly advertises the fact that it has been admitted to the PAX #DontBankontheBomb Hall of Fame for refusing to finance the manufacture or transfer of indiscriminate weapons.
These are glimpses of the bravery that the bank has shown in the past - along with a generous conttibution to co-op development.
When the bank revised its ethical policy we campaigned to make sure that this was not used as an excuse to water it down. Save Our Bank won a commitment not to drop any existing policies and as a result the ethical policy is now stronger than before. We have shown that if we are organised, we have real influence.
Lastly, what alternatives are there? It's disappointing but important to remember that there are few, if any, banks that offer the facilities that the Co-op does to ordinary customers and that have an ethical policy with any value.
We are angry with the bank's decision this week. We think it's a good example of why we need an independent customer union to keep the bank on its toes. We are stonger if we stick together, and that's why we are staying with the Co-operative Bank.
Save Our Bank team