CUEB gathering on ethical future of Co-op Bank

With new ownership at the Co-operative Bank, members and customers are asking whether the organisation still has a future as a world-leading ethical brand. Earlier this year, the Save...

With new ownership at the Co-operative Bank, members and customers are asking whether the organisation still has a future as a world-leading ethical brand.

Earlier this year, the Save Our Bank campaign, which was co-ordinated by Manchester-based multi-stakeholder co-op Ethical Consumer, completed the process of formalising into a co-operative after raising £30,000 through crowd-funding.

The Customer Union for Ethical Banking (CUEB) now has around 1,500 members and over 10,000 supporters. On 19 November, the co-op is holding its first official gathering in Manchester, to explore the future of the bank, and how an organised Customer Union could help ensure the bank stays ethical, or even become more co-operative.

“This event represents our emergence as a stand-alone organisation,” says Rob Harrison, CUEB secretary.

“It offers an opportunity for our members and supporters to hear how CUEB has progressed over the last year, and to contribute to the debate on how to keep ethics at the heart of financial decision-making at the Co-op Bank.

“We also very much welcome attendance by any interested individuals wanting to find out more about what we’ve been doing.”

The Co-op Bank remains the only UK high-street bank with a customer-led Ethical Policy. “The fact that this is written in to the articles of the bank is to be applauded, although this not failsafe,” adds Mr Harrison. “There appears to be a clear understanding by the Banks Shareholders that failing to back up policy with action would result in considerable flight, with people deserting to the emerging competitors in the field of ethical financial services.”

Related … Ethical Consumer investigated fossil-free finance

The Co-operative Group still has a 20% stake in the Co-op Bank, which it retained after the Bank was floated on the stock exchange to raise £1.5 billion of capital in June 2013.

“At its AGM in May, Allan Leighton, chair of the Group, confirmed the organisation’s commitment to the bank as a major shareholder, and said the Group would be appointing a member to the board of the bank. True to their word, the Group has now has an appointed member on the Bank’s Board,” said Mr Harrison.

The Group’s Alistair Asher joined the bank’s board in September, and sits on the Values & Ethics Committee. He is also a director and chair of Co-operative Legal Services and director of CIS General Insurance, FRTS and NOMA.

This year CUEB has also been working with Amnesty International UK and the Fund for Global Human Rights to gain a better understanding of the impact of the Co-op Banks’s closure of the accounts of solidarity organisations associated with Palestine, Cuba and other causes.

“In July, Amnesty held a workshop in London attended by representatives from some of the best-known organisations affected by account closures, smaller affected groups, and experts from more than one country on the issues of bank regulation and its effect on civil society,” said Mr Harrison. “The outcome of the workshop is feeding wider research for benefit of both CUEB and the bank.”

Amnesty International UK’s business and human rights expert, Peter Frankental, will be speaking about this CUEB’s inaugural event later this month. Other elements of the gathering will include discussions around ownership and ethics, and will look at examples from the trade union movement, Football Club supporters’ co-ops and the rest of the co-operative movement.

Another session will look at how new technologies – such as crypto currencies, peer to peer lending and crowdfunding – are changing the landscape.

  • The Customer Union for Ethical Banking gathering takes place on Saturday 19 November at Ziferblat, Edge Street, Manchester. Tickets are £15 / £ 25 (members / non-members) and can be booked here
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