Save Our Bank – a union of customers of the Co-operative Bank – has launched a crowd funder to support its campaign to return the bank to co-op ownership.
The customer union – itself a co-op – also wants the the funds to grow its membership and to continue its work arguing for change in the wider banking sector.
Formed by a group of customers in 2013 when the Co-op Bank entered its financial crisis, Save Our Bank originally worked to see the organisation preserve its ethical stance. It is now looking to extend its work.
Launching the crowd funder, Save our Bank said: “The Bank is no longer in distress, and its ethics are as firmly embedded as ever. We played an important part in this success and have now created a vision for what the next 10 years of the customer union might look like.
“Just as we needed to raise funds to get the customer union off the ground all those years ago, we need to do another crowd funder in 2023 to help us make this vision happen.”
In terms of restoring the bank to customer ownership, Save Our Bank said: “We need to do detailed research and development to help us create a fund to acquire at least some shares collectively in the bank. We think this might also create a model that could be used to build co-operative customer stakes in businesses everywhere.”
Save Our Bank says it has already raised £4,500 towards this project from three UK retail co-ops – Central England, Midcounties and Scotmid, with Co-operatives UK offering support in communicating its plan to the retail societies.
It is also looking to grow its own base. “Although we have around 1,200 paying members, with the bank’s current 3.1 million retail customers, we think we could be much bigger. This will need us to invest in more capacity, to work with the bank, and to explore a new name now that its ethics are secure. It will also help us become more resilient as some of our older members retire.”
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In terms of its wider banking campaign, it said: “In the past, the Co-operative Bank, as an ethical pioneer, showed how it was possible to do things differently. If we can continue to help it lead on ethics, and on the way it works with its customers (and with us as the union), we hope to use our learnings to influence participation and ethics systematically in the wider mainstream banking sector too.”
The customer union has income from memberships but says it needs another £18,000 to fund its campaign work.
“If we can raise £6,700 we can begin to work on our ownership project right away (2023-4),” it said. “If we can raise a further £6,300 we can get started on the growing the membership too (2024-6).
“If we can raise the full amount, we can create a formal plan to work with the bank to drive more ethical choices across the whole banking sector (2026-30).”
Shaun Fensom from Save Our Bank said: “When the Co-operative Group gave up its majority share in 2013 we wanted to make sure the bank kept to its ethics, and then work to bring the bank back into some form of co-operative ownership. We knew this wouldn’t be easy.
“With time the bank has actually strengthened its ethical policy and has now returned to campaigning. We’re proud of our role in that.
“Now we want to focus on our second aim. If we are going to build a co-operative stake in the bank we need to identify the best way to do this, and that’s a key aim for the crowd funder. We’re really excited to be moving on to this next phase.”
He added: “We think there’s real potential to replicate this model in other businesses. I really like the idea of ‘reversing’ a co-operative into a shareholder-owned business.”
The crowdfunder runs until 10 May and Save Our Bank says a £15 donation from each of its members would see it make the full target.
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