30 May 2018
This special edition of Cooperative Insider also features an interview with Jean-Louis Bancel, chair of Crédit Cooperatif in France. Mr Bancel also chairs French Apex Coop FR, Cooperatives Europe, and the International Co-operative Banking Association. In this interview he looks at the state of credit cooperatives and the contribution of the sector to fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals.
Raiffeisen set up Europe’s first credit cooperative in 1864 at a time when the continent was suffering from a severe famine and the rural population in Germany was experiencing poverty and hunger. How relevant are cooperative and global banks now in addressing the current challenges faced by Europe and the world?
Jean-Louis Bancel: Raiffeisen's achievement has been to fight for the creation of cooperative banks without initial capital. For him, it was a way to break the monopoly of banking activity at the hands of the rich. His achievement was to make clear that, even in the field of finance, the loyalty of the members is a real asset. It allows the accumulation of assets, in the form of indivisible reserves, so services can be created to meet needs of the members. In addition, this approach allows a greater opening up of the banking market makes the market more fluid and this is ultimately favorable to the consumers.
Today, this vision, which I describe as revolutionary, is not accepted by the regulators, who in various ways are trying to penalize the cooperative banks – even while they demonstrate, every day, their usefulness to millions of people in Europe and around the world. I consider that our main challenge is not to let ourselves be dominated by the unproven assertions that govern the bureaucratic approach of regulators. To do this, we need to make our members more aware of our difference and our relevance to the modern world so that their opinion may eventually prevail over the power of technocrats.
How is Crédit Coopératif celebrating the 200th anniversary of Raiffeisen’s birth?
Jean-Louis Bancel: Crédit Coopératif was created 125 years ago by workers' cooperatives who could not find banks which would give them credit. One can see the similarity with the original approach of Raiffeisen. In a different social and economic environment we have the demonstration that cooperatives, including banks, are "children of necessity". Although not belonging to the Raiffeisen movement, Crédit Coopératif will take the chance to mark the 200th anniversary by highlighting the contemporary significance of this banking revolution.
Ten years have passed since the 2008 financial crisis. What is the current state of cooperative banks?
Jean-Louis Bancel: As president of the International Association of Cooperative Banks, sectoral organization of the International Cooperative Alliance, I can tell you that cooperative banks have demonstrated their resilience in the face of the 2008 financial crisis. On the other hand, being more involved in the financing of the real economy, they suffered from the economic problems that followed. Organisations that had lost their cooperative nature were particularly affected. That is why we must deplore the demutualization of a number of cooperative banks in some European countries. On the other hand, I am sure that the right combination of professionalism and the implementation of cooperative values and principles can appeal to young people who are eager for transparency and meaning brought to everyday consumer behavior.
One of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals is improving access to basic goods and services. Two billion people across the world do not have access to financial services. What role can cooperatives play in addressing this?
Jean-Louis Bancel: The setting of the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 by the UN is a great challenge for cooperatives, particularly with regard to the 7th cooperative principle: concern for the community. That is why the International Cooperative Alliance, which gathers more than one billion people, has adhered to this approach. Giving access to financial services to billions of people around the world, whether close to home or much further through development collaborations, is a noble challenge facing cooperative banks. Without a doubt, we need to talk to each other more in the various international forums where we meet to define concrete lines of action.