Co-op Bank customers involved in the Save Our Bank campaign have set up a Customer Union for Ethical Banking as a co-operative society. The union will also seek to make sure the Bank’s ethical policy is implemented and look at how staff and customers are treated.
The Save Our Bank campaign started in 2013 after the Co-operative Group sold its shareholding in the Bank to private investors, particularly US-based hedge funds. The campaign was launched to hold the Bank to account on its ethical promises and is supported by 10,000 customers. Another purpose of the campaign is to work towards building a larger co-operative stake in the bank.
To take this forward, the Save Our Bank team formed the union as an independent co-operative, designed as a more permanent body that represents customers.
In November 2015, the Save Our Bank initiative launched a crowdfunding campaign to launch the union. Their initial target was £15,000, but they managed to raise over £30,000 from 1,509 backers.
Any Co-op Bank customers can become a member of the new co-op for a joining fee of £12, including business customers of the bank. The concept draws its inspiration from supporter trusts in sport clubs.
The union is owned by members and will have a board of directors democratically elected from members and a campaign team made up of staff and volunteers. As a co-operative society, the union would also be able to purchase shares in the Co-operative Bank.
They are currently waiting for the Co-operative Bank to open an account for the union. Save Our Bank representatives have also been engaging with the Bank about the recent account closures for community groups including Palestinian solidarity groups and the Cuba Solidarity Campaign. As a result, the Bank has paused account closures while it reviews how it communicates to customers whose accounts are being closed.
Shaun Fensom from Save Our Bank said: “The customer union shares the aims of the Save Our Bank campaign – to make sure the Co-operative Bank keeps to its ethical principles and in the longer term to help a return to co-operative control. We think we’ve already shown how an organised group of customers can have real influence: now as an independent co-operative we can make that a more permanent voice.
“Soon we will launch a campaign to raise funds to buy shares in the Bank, the first steps in increasing the overall co-operative stake. At the moment we are setting up the administrative systems and re-working the website so that customers can sign up to the union on-line. Once that is all in place we’ll organise our first conference and elections to the board.”