The campaign to create a union of Co-operative Bank customers is celebrating success after reaching its crowdfunding target.
The Customer Union for Ethical Banking, thought to be the first union of customers for a single company, attracted £15,000 in under two weeks.
By Tuesday 1 December, 1217 backers had pledged £24,900, and the crowdfunder will remain open until 15 December. The aim is reach the £30,000 mark and make the customer union “a real force to be reckoned with”.
The Save Our Bank Campaign needed £15,000 to register the customer union as a co-op, build its membership, create online participation tools and continue to campaign on ethical banking. Its aims include “building a strong customer voice in how the bank is run”, growing a co-operative stake in the Bank and campaigning for its eventual return to majority co-operative ownership.
Additional money raised will be used to make the union more efficient, conduct more promotional activity and improve membership management systems. It may also be used to create a fund to build a shareholding in the Bank.
“If we could raise £30,000 that would cover our income targets for the first year,” says Shaun Fensom of Save Our Bank.
“We’ve been absolutely bowled over by the level of support we’ve received, the positive comments and emails. Our ‘conversion rate’ of visits to pledges is very high for a crowdfunding campaign – a tribute to the passion and commitment of our supporters, and a sign of how much people still care about the Co-op Bank.”
He added: “Reaching the initial target means we can go ahead with the creation of an independent co-operative customer voice in the Co-op Bank. But there is so much more we can do if we can raise more.
“The Save Our Bank campaign is all about the power that customers have if they stay united. The more of us stick together, the stronger we are. I’d like to see us launch with 2,000 signed-up members or more.
“That’s a fifth of our 10,000 supporters so I’m hoping we can do it. The union will be a co-operative and it will be up to our members to decide how best to protect the values of our Co-operative Bank.”
The majority of shares in the Co-operative Bank were sold to private shareholders in 2013. In response, a group of customers, supported by Ethical Consumer magazine, formed the Save Our Bank Campaign to ensure the Bank did not drop its ethical policy.
Within a few months, over 10,000 Bank customers had signed up. The campaign was successful and the Bank launched a refreshed ethical policy which met with approval from Save Our Bank in January 2015.
“The co-operative stake in the Bank is currently 20%,” says Mr Fensom. “We realised that Save Our Bank needs to become a more permanent body, a watchdog that can campaign for a larger co-operative voice and buy shares in the Bank to help build up the co-operative stake.
“We believe ownership matters. Co-ops are a better, fairer and more democratic way of doing business. Along with most of our supporters, I want to see the Co-op Bank as a true co-operative, owned by its customers and employees.”
The union will collaborate with like-minded stakeholders, acquire more shares in the Bank, keep members up to date with developments, conduct research and host a conference.
In future the aim is to be able to sustain the union from annual membership fees. Full details of its projected costs are included in its business plan.