The Cooperative Bank
This paper examines the foundation and operational systems of the cooperative bank and its attempt to position itself within the context of two generic identities; the cooperative movement and the generic identity of the banking industry. It takes a look at the ethical policy concepts of the bank as its business model and how this has evolved as a differentiation characteristic for the banking industry. It also explores briefly the evolution of the bank since conception, its successes and challenges so far, and its target markets.
The cooperative bank was established in 1872. It has a proud history as part of the cooperative movement whose early foundations are traced back to efforts of peasants to break free from capitalist principles and its social system. Its ethical policy strategy was launched in 1992 and states who it chooses not to do business with. These include but not limited to the following: (i)Businesses with links to environmental damage (ii)Arms and fur trade (iii)Genetic modification and animal testing
A report by Nicholls (2007) 1 “defines ethical markets as an aggregated consumer-provider (demand-supply) exchange transactions of goods or services that have as one of their defining product characteristics – a normalised notion of social and/or environmental benefit. ” The cooperative bank operates as a business that is not driven solely by capital but also by human rights and social justice. The bank enjoyed tremendous success in the early 80’s and pioneered innovative ideas such as free interest bearing cheque accounts and free in-credit banking.
Due to change and innovation, the organizational structure of cooperative banks has evolved. Co-operative banks today increasingly consist of complex ownership structures that mimic the organisational models of commercial banks. According to Wyman (2008) 2 ‘‘their defining characteristics are no longer as clear cut as during inception’’. Differentiating individual contributions of members and their share of the accruing benefits is becoming increasingly difficult. By the early 90’s, deregulation of the banking sector opened up the current account market to intense competition and consumerism.
Based on market research, the bank adopted a new marketing strategy centred on its ethical stance; this created a new public image and awareness, which increased its target market and customer base; currently at over 6million consumers. The bank is also not quoted on the stock market and has just one shareholder which is the cooperative group. 3 this means it is less susceptible to the current fluctuations of the money market and provides better security for customer investments in relation to more popular high credible banks.
The 1999 launch of its wholly internet bank, Smile has the 2nd highest customer ratings among UK banks. BBC (2008). 4 In the 2005/06 financial year, whilst making profits of ? 96. 5 million, it turned away business of nearly ? 10 million. 5 This loss of funds is crucial for investment purposes and critics ask if the cooperative bank can successfully lead in the ever competitive banking industry. A look at the big four banks such as Barclays, Hsbc etc show a major strength in their accumulated capital base.
Barclays bank has an estimated capital base of $32. 5 billion, 6 this gives it a competitive advantage in providing cutting edge technology, innovative marketing strategies, and broader branch networks etc which all serve to increase the banks’ image in the public eye. The cooperative bank currently faces issues such as insufficient funds to compete strategically with these bigger banks and thus focuses more on providing value and social consciousness through its ethical policy strategy.
It also lacks high street accessibility; this relates to its poor branch network in comparison to these other bigger banks. This puts the cooperative bank in a disadvantaged position with customers and target market. Conclusively, the cooperative bank has achieved tremendous growth since inception and essentially struggles with achieving a competitive edge within industry. It appears a lot still has to be done to increase the strength of the brand and the bank needs to review its existing policies and operational structure. We propose that, it takes advantage of the current market fluctuations in the banking sector and increase its direct and indirect marketing strategy. A greater level of awareness on its ethical policy stance and cautious investment drive should be emphasized.