NewB must accept vdk bank’s saving hand, the shareholders and volunteer ambassadors Koen de Visscher, Marc Bontemps and Rein van Yesterday are convinced of that. ‘If the cooperatives join forces with vdk bank, a strong and sustainable bank is in sight.’
‘Banchor to well change’: with that slogan NewB went wild. To place sustainability and ethics as the reference in the Belgian banking landscape, that was the goal.
After ten years of hard work, NewB can say that it is no easy ambition. All the more so because the structure of a cooperative creates additional headwinds. After the failure of a capital increase that the National Bank had demanded, things looked closed, but with an offer from Ghent’s vdk-bank to cooperate, that ambition is gaining momentum.
The idea behind NewB took shape after the banking crisis of 2008. It couldn’t be that nothing was learned from the disaster that had pushed our economy to the brink, could it? And yet: Systemic banks, whose blind speculation was the cause of the crash, were paid billions if they respected the somewhat twisted rules.
Basically, not much has changed in our financial system.
Basically, not much has changed in our financial system. Traditional banks remained value driven rather than value driven. The sustainable promises in the windows of their stately offices are a marginal decoration, sometimes even a green cover.
With the regularity of an hour, projects become known both at home and abroad that we do not want to be involved in. Take the extra-legal investments in Palestinian occupied territory that support the Israeli apartheid policy. BNP Paribas and Deutsche Bank unashamedly support the so-called resolution policy.
Or take the deep green mutual funds. According to the Dutch platform for investigative journalism Investico, they do something other than what they promise for almost half. Of the 838 “dark green” European funds examined, 388 appear to invest in the fossil fuel industry and in aviation for an amount of €8.5 billion. Money from unsuspecting citizens goes to companies such as TotalEnergies, coal company RWE, easyJet and Lufthansa.
It may be different
Banking is dealing with other people’s money. Our money must roll in the right direction.
As a customer of a major bank, you are insufficiently aware of the pernicious role “your” bank plays on the world stage and what cog you are in it.
A strong ethical and sustainable actor provides a counterweight. Vdk bank and NewB prove with their scores on bankwijzer.be that it is possible. With NewB, vdk bank can increase its impact. There is also Triodos, but unfortunately that bank only offers savings services to individuals in Belgium.
The self-cleaning capacity is hard to find in the sector. There is beginners (newcomers) and external pressure are needed to reverse the trend so that citizens have a free choice and can ‘vote with their money’.
As a customer of a major bank, you are insufficiently aware of the pernicious role “your” bank plays on the world stage and what cog you are in it. Gradually, we are also confronted in our own comfort zone with how that system works.
Civil society organisations, youth movements and NGOs are increasingly finding it difficult to open a regular bank or savings account. We hear that they are being notified by “their” bank that their account will be closed. Without explanation, with a request to provide a number to which the balance can be transferred. Explanation: “A decision from above.”
This phenomenon threatens to become a serious problem. The only answer to this is to ensure that civil society and all conscious citizens have their own economic arm, the rationale behind NewB.
And so NewB’s history connects with what the ‘Volksdepositokas’ bank started 96 years ago. If NewB’s partners join forces with vdk bank, a strong and sustainable bank will become visible. With the bed that NewB has spread, it can grow in Flanders, gain a foothold in Wallonia and Brussels and even grow faster to become the Belgian reference for sustainable banking.
Vdk’s history and Christian trade union background ensure that green marketing talk does not occur. For large banks, on the other hand, ethical banking is not a condition of existence, but rather an afterthought in a portfolio where the pursuit of profit is the main goal.
It is a fact that vdk is not a cooperative society. But she is headstrong and has resisted all siren songs to mingle with Bacob and Dexia. Her model does not push the boundaries of profitability and profitability. And its focus on local and sustainable corresponds to a growing demand in society. NewB can contribute to this.
A growing public expects a financial service provider to truly put its customer first again. We recognize ourselves in vdk bank, where the staff work without performance-based fees, where no less than 80% of deposits are converted into loans for the real economy; a bank that avoids glossy promotions and focuses on personal service in its 62 branches.
With NewB as bank agent, vdk bank has the potential to grow into a strong player.
As the youngest player in the banking market in 65 years (!), NewB met all the starting conditions after a long preparation. But the transition from dream to action turned out to be quite difficult. For many, the closure was hard. Many had not yet taken the step from cooperative to bank customer.
As NewB, we have not been sufficiently successful in clarifying this urgency. And even less did we manage to get on the radar of many who share our goals, such as the ambition and potential to become a ‘game changer’ in the Belgian banking landscape (which by the way no longer has any real co-operative banks).
Vdk bank now presents itself from Ghent as the saving angel. The tide is favorable to have more “volume” with NewB, benefiting the entire Belgian community. A robust sofa that can continue to grow after 96 years of stubborn resistance. A special bank that did not live on state aid during the banking crisis. Which “system bank” did that?
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With NewB as bank agent, vdk bank has the potential to grow into a strong player. Vdk bank has 135,000 customers in Flanders. With 20,000 bank customers and another 100,000 other cooperatives, NewB is one of the largest social movements in Belgium (!), supported by 11 institutional investors and 350 small and very large civil society organizations. They will soon be able to open a bank account and take out loans.
NewB’s additional capital round of 40 million euros, which failed, was supposed to make it possible, among other things. Because of course it hurt that NGOs, cooperatives, trade unions, self-employed, small associations, non-profit organizations and government institutions feel the need to bank more sustainably, but were not yet able to do so in their own cooperative.
Anchoring of values
Together, vdk bank and NewB can become the locomotive for a financial train to more and new destinations.
As volunteer NewB ambassadors, we would like to help ensure that the mix of thirteen unique values in our cooperative remains on the table during the discussions with vdk bank. And that in the long run they will be structurally anchored.
How that could be is still a question mark. But we are convinced that it will also be an added value for vdk bank to cherish and protect the thirteen values that formed the basis of NewB. Transparency, participation, sustainability, honesty, simplicity, rigour, inclusion, innovation, professionalism, security, integration, diversity and proximity: for us these are and will be verbs.
Together, vdk bank and NewB can become the locomotive for a financial train to more and new destinations: even more investments in renewable energy, insulation, cleaner mobility, fairly produced food, social and sustainable lifestyle…
Our children and grandchildren deserve it.
Koen de Visscher, Marc Bontemps and Rein van Yesterday are collaborators and volunteer ambassadors for NewB.