Marco Benini
18 June 2013

Co-operative banking alive and thriving

A credit Agricole branch in Locronan (Photo by Yann Caradec - CC rights)

European trade press has been recently investigating the situation of co-operative banking, a sector which is gaining wider visibility. In January 2013, the influential trade magazine The Banker ran a four-page feature on co-operative banks, underlining their new popularity after the series of scandals involving large banks. Later in April, the UN's International Labour Organization published a report “Resilience in a downturn: the power of financial cooperatives, written by University of Stirling academic Johnston Birchall.

It claims that co-operative banking is the right way to go in time of crisis. This statement is supported also by the European Association of Co-operative Banks' head of legal department Volker Heegemann, who said that some of the member banks had the best trading years in their history. Across Europe, co-operative banks have around 20% of total retail banking business.

There is some exceptionally situation in France, with Crédit Agricole, Crédit Mutuel and BPCE - having an estimated 45% market share - and Netherlands, where Rabobank has a 40% market share. The real advantage that co-op banks are member-owned and not trading to provide dividends to shareholders, is thus starting to be more widely understood.

The banking crisis confirmed that financial co-operatives are stable and risk averse, and they are getting the admiration of a growing number of people disillusioned with 'casino capitalism'.