The Co-operative Bank

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The Co-operative Bank
Type Public limited company, subsidiary of Consumer cooperative
Industry Financial services
Founded 1872 (1872)
Headquarters 1 Balloon Street
Manchester
M60 4EP
, United Kingdom
Products Retail banking, commercial banking and independent financial advice
Revenue £3.5 billion
Website www.co-operativebank.co.uk

The Co-operative Bank is a retail and commercial bank in the United Kingdom, with its headquarters in Balloon Street, Manchester.

The bank markets itself as an ethical bank, and seeks to avoid investing in companies involved in certain elements of the arms trade, fossil fuel extraction, genetic engineering, animal testing and use of sweated labour as stated in its ethical policy. The ethical policy was introduced in 1992[1] and incorporated into the Bank's constitution in 2013.[2] In 2002, the parent company Co-operative Group Limited brought the bank and the Co-operative Insurance Society under the control of a newly incorporated holding society, Co-operative Financial Services, which became the Co-operative Banking Group in 2011. In 2013 the bank was the subject of a rescue plan [3] to address a capital shortfall of about £1.5 billion. The bank mostly raised equity to cover the shortfall from hedge funds, while the Co-operative Group became a minority shareholder[4] holding a 30% stake in the bank.[5]

In 2013, the bank was hit by a series of scandals involving its former non-executive Chairman, Paul Flowers, a former local Labour Party Vice-Chairman, ordained Methodist minister and vice-chairman of Rochdale Council's social services committee,[6] who had been appointed by Labour leader Ed Miliband to a senior post in 2010. Flowers was filmed by an acquaintance in his car apparently agreeing to buy cocaine and methamphetamine, and appearing to count large sums of money while discussing his use of ketamine, cannabis and GHB.[7] After the story was published, it was revealed that, while at Rochdale Council, Flowers had known about the activities of paedophiles at a residential boys' school, but had neither informed parents nor taken measures to close the school,[6] was responsible for rejecting allegations of child sex abuse by the late Cyril Smith,[8] and that, in 2011, while working at Bradford Council, "Inappropriate but not illegal adult content was found on a council computer handed in by Councillor Flowers for servicing. This was put to him and he resigned immediately."[9] It has been alleged that he communicated with rent boys using his work email account while he was in charge of the Co-operative Bank, and was convicted of carrying out a sex act in a public toilet more than 30 years ago.[8] After the bank lost £700m in the first half of 2013, and a £1.5 billion hole in the bank's finances was discovered by the new Chief Executive Euan Sutherland in May 2013, Flowers resigned from the Bank in June 2013.[10][11]

History[edit]

The Stockport Pyramid building provides administrative services, including a call centre for Smile and the Co-operative Bank.

The bank was formed in 1872 as the Loan and Deposit Department of the Co-operative Wholesale Society, becoming the CWS Bank four years later. However, the bank did not become a registered company until 1971.[12] In 1975, the bank became the first new member of the Committee of London Clearing Banks for 40 years[13] and thus able to issue its own cheques.

In 1974 the Co-operative Bank offered free banking for personal customers who remained in credit. It was also the first Clearing Bank to offer an interest-bearing cheque account, in 1982.

The Co-operative in Balloon Street, Manchester

Following the UK Government's acquisition of 43.4% of Lloyds Banking Group in 2009, the Co-operative Bank entered into negotiations with Lloyds Banking Group to purchase over 600 of its branches. European Commission laws restricting state aid required the sale of the branches in a divestment known as Project Verde. In February 2012, press reports suggested that the Financial Services Authority (FSA) might intervene to block the purchase due to concerns about the Co-operative Bank's ability to integrate IT systems. It was rumoured that the FSA was particularly concerned that the Co-operative bank was still behind schedule in the integration of its IT systems with those of the Britannia Building Society, despite the fact that the merger took place in 2009.[14]

The purchase was publicly announced in July 2012 and it was revealed that the branches would be initially split from Lloyds under the resurrected TSB brand.[15] On 24 April 2013 the Co-operative bank announced that it had decided against proceeding with the deal. The reasons given were the poor economic outlook in the UK and an increase in financial regulation requirements.[16] The Financial Times had previously reported that the Co-operative would require a £1 billion increase in capital to support enlarging the bank.[17]

2013 financial crisis[edit]

The Co-operative Bank on Vicar Lane in Leeds, West Yorkshire

In March 2013 the bank reported losses of £600m. In May Moody's downgraded its credit rating by six notches to junk (Ba3) and the chief executive Barry Tootell resigned.[18]

Over the weekend of 15–16 June 2013 negotiations between the Co-operative Group and its regulator the Prudential Regulation Authority culminated in reports [19][20] that the Bank had a shortfall in its capital of about £1.5 billion, and that this would be filled by a procedure known as a "bail-in" scheme. Bank Chairman Paul Flowers resigned shortly before the announcement of the shortfall.[21] A press release[3] by the bank issued on 17 June 2013 explained that the scheme would compel subordinated (also known as junior) bondholders to convert some or all of their assets from debt instruments to ownership (“equity”) shares of uncertain value which would be listed on the London Stock Exchange and a new fixed income instrument. The scheme contrasted with the rescues of other British banks in 2008 and 2009 when central government introduced new capital into the failed institutions. Details of the outcome for small retail investors in the Bank were uncertain at the time of the June announcement, but it should be noted that there was no suggestion that ordinary deposits in the Bank would be put at any additional risk by the rescue, as they would continue to be covered by the existing compensation scheme. The bondholders had the opportunity to seek to reject the restructuring proposed, and an alternative option of the Bank of England taking over the ownership of the bank under the Banking Act 2009 special resolution regime was considered.[22]

In September it was discovered that there was a £3.6bn funding gap between the value the Co-operative Bank placed on its loan portfolio and the actual value it would realise if forced to sell the assets.[23] In October it was reported that the Co-operative Group had been forced to renegotiate the bank's £1.5bn rescue with US hedge funds Aurelius Capital Management, Beach Point Capital Management, and Silver Point Capital that owned its debt. As a result the Group would lose majority control of its banking arm with the proportion of the bank's equity remaining under its ownership dropping to 30%, less than the 75% proposed in the original rescue plan.[4] The plan passed a creditor vote and on 18 December 2013 and a judge on the UK high court allowed the plan to move forward.[24][25] The bank's subsequent strategy is to reduce the number of branches by 15%[26] and to focus on retail and small and medium sized business banking.[5] Floatation on the London Stock Exchange was planned for 2014[26] but the plans were abandoned[27] in March 2014 when a rights issue was announced to raise an additional £400 million[28] to ensure that the bank's capital ratio remains above the 7% regulatory minimum.[29]

Membership[edit]

Despite its name, the Co-operative Bank is not itself a true co-operative as it is not owned directly by its members. Instead it is part-owned by a holding company which is itself a co-operative - the Co-operative Banking Group. Its customers may, however, choose to become Co-operative Group members and hence indirectly acquire an ownership interest in the bank, earning dividend on their account holdings and borrowing with the Bank.[30]

The bank also has approximately 2,500 preference shareholders, which are irredeemable fixed-interest shares. These shareholders can attend the bank's general meetings, but only have speaking and voting rights if the dividend is in arrears, or on any resolution varying their rights or winding up the bank.[31]

Unlike other co-operative banks, such as the Dutch Rabobank,[32] the Co-operative Bank does not have a federal structure of local banks, instead being a single national bank.

Ethical policy[edit]

A statue of cooperative pioneer Robert Owen stands in front of the bank's head office in Manchester. The statue was removed in May 2013.

The Co-operative Bank operates an Ethical Policy[33] and has an ethical code of conduct as part of its constitution. The Ethical Policy is overseen by a values and ethics committee chaired by an independent director.[2] The Ethical Policy excludes the provision of any banking services to businesses which take part in certain business activities or sectors. These include a commitment not to finance "the manufacture or transfer of armaments to oppressive regimes" or "any business whose core activity contributes to global climate change, via the extraction or production of fossil fuels". The bank estimates that it has declined finance totalling in excess of £1bn since the policy was introduced in 1992.[34] The Policy is based on a regularly-renewed customer mandate in the form of a survey. In the 2005/06 financial year, whilst making profits of £96.5 million, it turned away business of nearly £10 million.[35]

The Policy only applies to the balance sheet of The Co-operative Bank and never applied to other Co-operative Group businesses such as The Co-operative Asset Management, the Group's asset management business. Nevertheless this business received criticism in 2009 for not following the Bank's Ethical Policy[36][37] and in 2013 it was sold to the Royal London Group.[38][39]

In June 2005, the bank closed the account of a Christian evangelical group (Christian Voice) because of its standpoint on homosexuality, specifically the group's "discriminatory pronouncements on grounds of sexual orientation". They said the group was "incompatible with the position of the Co-operative Bank, which publicly supports diversity and dignity". Christian Voice said the bank was discriminating against it on religious grounds.[40] Gay Times subsequently selected the Co-operative Bank for its Ethical Corporate Stance Award.[41]

Subsidiaries[edit]

Smile[edit]

The bank launched a separate internet-only operation known as Smile in 1999, which, according to surveys, has the highest satisfaction ratings among UK banks and has received many awards in recent years for customer service and online banking.[42] It has around half-a-million customers. Smile has its call centre based at a unique pyramid building in Stockport.

Britannia[edit]

A high-street branch of the Britannia in Gloucester

In October 2008, it was reported that Co-operative Financial Services was in talks with Britannia Building Society with a view to sharing facilities and possibly a full merger.

Such a venture was facilitated by the passing of the Building Societies (Funding) & Mutual Societies (Transfers) Act 2007,[43] although further secondary legislation was required before such a merger could take place.

On 21 January 2009, Co-operative Financial Services and Britannia Building Society agreed to a merger, with the new 'super-mutual' being brought under the stewardship of The Co-operative Group. The proposed merger was subject to a vote by Britannia's members at their AGM at the end of April 2009.

On 29 April 2009 Britannia's members voted overwhelmingly in favour of the merger.[44]

In the short term, both Britannia Building Society and the Co-operative Bank continue operating their own products, branch networks and systems. All Britannia branches are due to be rebranded under the Co-operative name by the end of 2013.[45]

Independent financial advice[edit]

The Co-operative Bank withdrew its CIFA network in October 2011, and this was replaced by the Co-operative Banking Financial Planning Service, which is provided by AXA Wealth. AXA Wealth was also withdrawn, in April 2013. The Co-operative Bank has not replaced AXA Wealth.

Technical problems[edit]

In 2009, the Co-operative Bank received considerable public criticism from business customers for problems with the bank's internet banking service. It subsequently emerged that the service crashed when more than 130 users logged on simultaneously, and some customers were left unable to access their accounts for days.[46]

In 2011, some Co-operative Bank customers were left temporarily unable to use their debit cards as a result of IT problems.[47]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Welcome to our ethical policy". The Co-operative Bank. Retrieved 29 November 2007. 
  2. ^ a b Russell Parsons (4 November 2013). "Co-op insists it is still 'UK’s leading ethical bank'". Marketing Week. Retrieved 29 January 2014. 
  3. ^ a b "The Co-operative Group announces outcome of review of The Co-operative Bank’s capital position". The Co-operative Banking Group. 17 June 2013. Retrieved 14 July 2013. 
  4. ^ a b Jill Treanor and Sean Farrell (21 October 2013). "Co-op Group loses majority control of banking division". The Guardian (Manchester). Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  5. ^ a b "Co-operative Bank is now owned by bondholders". Co-operative News. 9 January 2014. Retrieved 21 January 2014. 
  6. ^ a b Craven, Nick; Slater, Ross; Ellerby, Ben (30 November 2013). "Crystal Methodist in link to school described as 'sweet shop for paedophiles'". Daily Mail. Retrieved 17 April 2014. 
  7. ^ Craven, Nick; Slater, Ross (16 November 2013). "Crystal meth shame of bank chief". Mail on Sunday. Retrieved 17 April 2014. 
  8. ^ a b Rayner, Gordon (21 November 2013). "Rev Paul Flowers' links to Cyril Smith". The Telegraph. Retrieved 17 April 2014. 
  9. ^ "Co-op boss quit Bradford Council after ‘adult content’ found on computer". Yorkshire Post. 19 November 2013. Retrieved 17 April 2014. 
  10. ^ Siddique, Haroon (17 November 2013). "Co-operative Bank's former chairman 'seeking help' after drugs admission". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 April 2014. 
  11. ^ Jivanda, Tomas (17 November 2013). "Co-op bank former chair allegedly filmed handing over £300 for drugs including crystal meth and cocaine". The Independent. Retrieved 17 April 2014. 
  12. ^ Co-operative Financial Services History . Retrieved 18 December 2008.
  13. ^ Co-operative Financial Services - the Co-operative Bank . Retrieved 18 December 2008.
  14. ^ Salmon, James (2012-02-08). "Financial Services Authority could stop sale of Lloyds branches to the Co-op". This is Money. Retrieved 2013-07-14. 
  15. ^ Warwick, Lucy (2012-07-19). "Q and A: What the Co-op deal means for you". Financial Times. Retrieved 2013-07-14. 
  16. ^ Patrick Jenkins (24 April 2013). "Lloyds plans IPO for TSB branches after sale talks collapse". Financial Times. Retrieved 24 April 2013. 
  17. ^ Jennifer Thompson and Patrick Jenkins (26 February 2013). "Co-op 1bn gap puts Lloyds under pressure". Financial Times. Retrieved 24 April 2013. 
  18. ^ Rupert Neate and Jill Treanor (2013-05-10). "Co-operative Bank rushes to reassure customers after downgrade". The Guardian. 
  19. ^ Jenkins, Patrick (2013-06-17). "Co-operative Bank outlines restructuring plan to raise £1.5bn". Financial Times. Retrieved 2013-07-14. 
  20. ^ "Co-op Bank to fill £1.5bn hole". BBC News. 2013-06-16. Retrieved 2013-07-14. 
  21. ^ Treanor, Jill (22 November 2013). "Former Co-op Bank chairman Paul Flowers arrested in drug inquiry". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 December 2013. 
  22. ^ Robert Peston (12 July 2013). "What did regulators know about Co-op Bank?". BBC. Retrieved 13 July 2013. 
  23. ^ Harry Wilson (2 September 2013). "Co-op Bank loan value 'deficit' grows to £3.6bn". London: Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2013-09-02. 
  24. ^ "Co-op Bank creditors approve bailout deal". BBC News. 17 December 2013. Retrieved 31 December 2013. 
  25. ^ Treanor, Jill (18 December 2013). "Co-op Bank rescue may prove bondholder 'bail-ins' are the future". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 December 2013. 
  26. ^ a b "Co-op Bank to cut branch network by at least 15%". BBC News. 4 November 2013. Retrieved 29 January 2014. 
  27. ^ Jim Armitage and Nick Goodway (25 March 2014). "Co-op Bank’s ethical investors fret over another £400m hole". The Independent. 
  28. ^ Jill Treanor (24 march 2014). "Co-op bank needs £400m as losses deepen". The Guardian. 
  29. ^ Harry Wilson (11 April 2014). "Co-op Bank talks to outside investors, says chief executive". The Telegraph. 
  30. ^ The Co-operative Membership The Co-operative. Retrieved 4 November 2013
  31. ^ "Financial Statements 2012". The Co-operative Bank plc. 2013. Retrieved 20 November 2013. 
  32. ^ Rabobank Profile, www.rabobank.nl . Retrieved 18 December 2008.
  33. ^ Co-operative Bank
  34. ^ "Ethical screening". The Co-operative. Retrieved 2013-09-02. 
  35. ^ Walsh, Fiona. Furry sporrans turned down as Co-op banks on ethical profit. The Guardian, 30 May 2006.
  36. ^ James Graham (22 May 2009). "Co-op defends investment portfolio". The Business Desk. 
  37. ^ [1] The Guardian.
  38. ^ "Co-op's sale of life insurance and asset management businesses comes a step closer". Manchester Evening News. 2013-07-05. Retrieved 2013-09-02. 
  39. ^ "Royal London Group Press Release". Royal London Group. 1 August 2013. Retrieved 29 January 2014. 
  40. ^ "Co-operative Bank". Christian Voice. 2005-06-23. Retrieved 2010-05-14. 
  41. ^ Gay Times, February 2006. See Awards Co-operative Financial Services . Retrieved 29 November 2007.
  42. ^ "why smile?: awards". Smile. Retrieved 2010-05-14. 
  43. ^ Peter Stiff (13 October 2008). "Britannia explores merger deal with Co-Op". London: Times Online. Retrieved 2010-05-14. 
  44. ^ "Business | Britannia/Co-op merger date set". BBC News. 2009-04-29. Retrieved 2010-05-14. 
  45. ^ "Britannia Building Society: Unions disappointed at name change". BBC News. 25 January 2013. Retrieved 21 June 2013. 
  46. ^ "Updated: Co-operative bank ‘losing customers’ through system problems". Computerworld UK. 2009-11-16. Retrieved 2013-07-14. 
  47. ^ "Co-op suffers debit card glitch". BBC News. 11 October 2011. 

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