A new Community Bank of Wales could be on its way. As banks are closing, it is leaving many people and businesses across Wales without essential financial services. The answer could be a co-operative one, a new bank established on a ‘one member, one vote’ basis.
First Minister Mark Drakeford made a commitment to establish a Community Bank of Wales in his leadership manifesto. In response to the need for better banking services he made a pledge to set up a bank that will ‘offer current accounts to all local residents, regardless of income or wealth.’
Many communities are now without a bank, especially in rural areas. Businesses are having to close early to deposit their takings at a bank because the nearest one is now much further away. Under the current system, it appears poorer people still pay more for banking services. Despite the move to internet banking many people still want face-to-face services as well. It seems obvious that the solution should be co-operative, with a focus on putting people first.
The aim is that the new community bank will begin to operate before the end of the Assembly term in May 2021. It is vital that customers and members are involved in designing the new bank – their new bank – from an early stage. There is lots of work to do before 2021 – to understand the market and what services could be offered before an application for a banking licence can be made. And that work has begun.
The intention is that the new bank is different – first and foremost run by and for its members. It would be a living wage employer, independent, based in Wales from its branches through to its headquarters, without the big bonus culture ever-present in the current banking world. It would work with community groups and credit unions to reach all parts of the country – to add to what is there rather than duplicate or compete with like-minded organisations.
A group of organisations and activists that includes Cartrefi Cymru Co-operative, the Robert Owen Community Bank, and the Wales Co-operative Centre have been campaigning over the last few years for a public bank in Wales. Much of the credit for continuing progress goes to that group for the fact that many of their ideas are now Welsh Government policy.
Wales is not alone on this journey. The RSA are closely involved with developments across the UK and have championed this agenda for some time. Moreover, the CSBA has been set up to ‘rebuild a network of independent, local banks in the UK’ and is working with people to take this exciting idea to many regions across the the UK - organisations such as the South West Mutual.
To stay in touch with developments in Wales, follow @banccambria on Twitter. We are holding a special general meeting in Llandrindod Wells from 10am to 3pm on 28 June 2019 - all are welcome. To register for the event please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Derek Walker is Chair of Banc Cambria, the new mutual taking forward a community bank in Wales. You can email Derek at email@example.com or contact him on twitter @derekwalker_.
The RSA is supporting the CSBA in the development of a UK-wide network of regional, customer-owned banks that serve local communities and small and medium sized businesses. If you are interested in following our work sign up below or email Mark Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org.