Whose brainchild some banks are has become particularly impressive to me again last week. Spirit-filled conversations with a successful entrepreneur about realization and financing options for a visionary large-scale project gave us an impressive sunset in a bar in Frankfurt’s banking district. The pillars of the German banking market with its specificity were always impressively in front of our eyes: private banks, savings banks and cooperative banks. Embedded in the respective cultures of their families of associations, they have completely different value foundations – and as individual institutions often make so little of their own historical value resources. In many cases, there is nothing more to be found than expensive glossy marketing with interchangeable slogans about responsibility, trust, sustainability and customer orientation. And it is currently becoming clear once again how much you can put on this at some major banks. But there are also better – unique – institutions of a healthy size from which much can be learned. Institutions that are resilient and able to cope with crises, whose values are growing instead of being destroyed at the expense of society, and which have survived every crisis so far without state guarantees…
Some of these better banks have their home in Franconian Nuremberg in Germany – just like me 🙂 And one of them has already been successfully demonstrating for a lifetime what cooperative solidarity can look like in banking practice. Now this credit cooperative has undergone a decisive rejuvenation. Through its own core values, which were not imposed from the outside but which were developed in a professional process from within. Over a period of more than a year – which proves that they really take the issue seriously there! The associated project was also completed with my support this week, and some insights are sure to be of interest to you as well:
Cooperatives have a very good value base due to their “cooperative spirit”, especially shortly after their foundation. But a legal form alone does not establish a lasting basis of broadly shared values. Cooperatives have always linked people and economic, social and cultural goals. Because of their peculiar dual nature as an enterprise and an association of people, cooperatives therefore absolutely need their own cultural identity that can continue to develop – even within the cooperative family. This makes genuine and lasting differentiation with clear strengths possible. Although some values typical of cooperatives, such as solidarity and partnership, have traditionally been strongly experienced at PSD-Bank Nürnberg eG – which this example here is all about – since it was founded, there is a much greater treasure of values there. This has been professionally enhanced by the development of the bank’s own core values. The combination of these core values is unique and ensures lasting innovations specific to the institution against the backdrop of constantly changing social challenges. Making a genuine commitment to the cooperative canon of values and developing its own core values to match is the right way to lay its own foundation on the planum of its legal form and to form a clear compass for the major challenges of the future. These powerful values not only strengthen the bank’s brand, but also influence all strategic decisions on all issues that are relevant now and in the future. In addition to regulatory requirements, these include digitalization and sustainability in particular. To ensure the link with the cooperative idea in the project, we linked all the values examined in the company – and there were a lot of them – to cooperative values. The portfolio of values formed for this purpose comes from my research based on specialist literature, statements by german leaders of top cooperative institutions, a representative survey of members, employees, and managers in the cooperative sector in Germany, and nation wide image campaigns. These values represent the basic normative framework of PSD-Bank Nürnberg eG on account of its legal form and are also a unique resource for all cooperative banks!
Fundamental cooperative values are democracy and equality, solidarity, self-help, self-responsibility, justice, and voluntariness. Raiffeisen & Schulze-Delitzsch’s uniform set of cooperative values is honesty, sincerity, and social responsibility, as well as the principle of promotion. Equality, justice, solidarity, regionality, democracy, and member orientation are the overarching set of values shaped by the founding fathers’ Christian faith. Part of the solidarity principle is the form of self-help, generating member benefits and limiting business activities to a concrete region as well as networking in and with a concrete region, member responsibility and self-restraint. The identity principle is represented by the characteristics members as capital providers, users, bearers of democratic decision-making and control. In addition, further system-compatible values exist to complement the traditional cultural core, which are also reflected in the principles of the Int. Co-op. Alliance: voluntary & open membership; democratic control; equal economic participation of the members; autonomy & independence; education & information; cooperation within the cooperative movement and orientation towards the common good.
The community of values of PSD-Bank Nürnberg eG builds on these with its portfolio of core values and yet its chosen path is unique. The value foundation was defined by the community itself – not from a textbook or an external agency, but from the work ethos and life practices of the employees from within. Always in interaction with the cooperative bodies, members, customers and in cooperation over a period of more than a year! This bank has lived and strengthened the cooperative core of TOGETHER during the values definition process. It has shown that it is capable of combining individual ideas of a shared good future in a cooperative way. This process alone has already strengthened this bank! It became clear to everyone involved that they are part of an organization that is truly imbued with the cooperative spirit. I was allowed to make sure that the process was implemented in a resilient discourse-ethical and grassroots-democratic manner. And that was really the case! I would call this a real lesson in modern times for cooperative banks in general. Now there is a common, self-generated understanding of good action. At the same time, the broad will to actually act in this way is there!
Against the backdrop of the current banking crisis, it becomes clear how professional values management also has a risk-reducing effect. It is also the basis for a credible sustainability strategy. Again and again I am asked how this can be implemented in one’s own company. So that you too can go down this path competently, I will explain the basics of the value management cycle once here in the next few blog posts. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions – it is always a pleasure for me to help finding the right values for your company as well!