What is a co-operative bank ?

According to the International Co-operative Alliance Statement of co-operative identity, a co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise. Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.

The 7 co-operative principles are :

  1. Voluntary and open membership
  2. Democratic member control
  3. Member economic participation
  4. Autonomy and independence
  5. Education, training and information
  6. Co-operation among Co-operatives
  7. Concern for Community

A co-operative bank is a financial entity which belongs to its members, who are at the same time the owners and the customers of their bank. Co-operative banks are often created by persons belonging to the same local or professional community or sharing a common interest. Co-operative banks generally provide their members with a wide range of banking and financial services (loans, deposits, banking accounts...).

Co-operative banks differ from stockholder banks by their organization, their goals, their values and their governance. In most countries, they are supervised and controlled by banking authorities and have to respect prudential banking regulations, which put them at a level playing field with stockholder banks. Depending on countries, this control and supervision can be implemented directly by state entities or delegated to a co-operative federation or central body.

Even if their organizational rules can vary according to their respective national legislations, co-operative banks share common features :

  • Customer's owned entities : in a co-operative bank, the needs of the customers meet the needs of the owners, as co-operative bank members are both. As a consequence, the first aim of a co-operative bank is not to maximise profit but to provide the best possible products and services to its members. Some co-operative banks only operate with their members but most of them also admit non-member clients to benefit from their banking and financial services.
  • Democratic member control : co-operative banks are owned and controlled by their members, who democratically elect the board of directors. Members usually have equal voting rights, according to the co-operative principle of  "one person, one vote".
  • Profil allocation : in a co-operative bank, a significant part of the yearly profit, benefits or surplus is usually allocated to constitute reserves. A part of this profit can also be distributed to the co-operative members, with legal or statutory limitations in most cases. Profit is usually allocated to members either through a patronage dividend, which is related to the use of the co-operative's products and services by each member, or through an interest or a dividend, which is related to the number of shares subscribed by each member.

Co-operative banks are deeply rooted inside local areas and communities. They are involved in local development and contribute to the sustainable development of their communities, as their members and management board usually belong to the communities in which they exercise their activities. By increasing banking access in areas or markets where other banks are less present - SMEs, farmers in rural areas, middle or low income households in urban areas - co-operative banks reduce banking exclusion and foster the economic ability of millions of people. They play an influential role on the economic growth in the countries in which they work in and increase the efficiency of the international financial system. Their specific form of enterprise, relying on the above-mentioned principles of organization, has proven successful both in developed and developing countries.

 
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