Equal say for cooperative members!

Equal say for cooperative members!

The cooperative principle must include democratic rights

by Dr phil. René Roca, Research Institute for Direct Democracy (www.fidd.ch)

In Current Concerns No. 15/16 from 13 July 2018 I reported on my proposal at the annual general assembly (AGA) of my Raiffeisen Bank. This year‘s AGA took place on 9 March 2019. In the meantime, the “headquarters” of the Raiffeisen banks in St. Gallen had replaced the entire management and provided it with lavish financial compensation, although it had failed miserably in connection with the Vinzenz debacle. Not a good omen.

Another language?

On the occasion of an extraordinary meeting of delegates in November 2018, fundamental reforms (the so-called “Reform 21”) were adopted, which were to be explained at the annual general meetings of the 246 cooperative banks, according to the announcement. The cooperative members could be curious.
On the occasion of the AGM of the Raiffeisenbank Rohrdorferberg-Fislisbach, I put my request and questions under the agenda item “miscellaneous”, as I did last year. After a brief review of the two discussions I had with Raiffeisen representatives, I asked my two questions again:
1.    What does the cooperative principle mean for Raiffeisen today?
2.    What can I do as a cooperative member, as a co-owner of the bank, if I do not agree with the bank’s strategy? How do I proceed?
Unfortunately, I received only rudimentary replies from the Bank during the two discussions. I have always had the impression that the representatives of the bank (CEO and chairman of the Board of Directors, BoD) and I speak a different language. I emphasised at the AGA that I do not want my vote to be understood as a vote of no confidence against our bank and the new leadership team in St. Gallen. In St. Gallen, they should first “tidy up”.
Still, the question for me is, what next? What can I do if the wrong people sit in St. Gallen or at my Raiffeisenbank again in the future and if the banking group or my bank is pursuing the wrong strategy? Up to now, as a cooperative member (and nota bene co-owner of the bank), I have had no opportunity to file an application that will be put on the agenda for sure. The right to apply (as any rabbit breeders association and also cooperatives, including savings banks, know) is missing in the statutes of my Raiffeisenbank. I can merely ask my bank to put something on the agenda at the next AGA. The right to draw up the agenda lies solely with the board of directors. To me, however, self-determination and co-determination are a central fundamental cooperative right, an important cooperative value.

“Compulsory statutes” do not fit the cooperative principle

I have now instructed the BoD to address this issue at the next AGA. The Chairman of the BoD replied to me at the AGA that Raiffeisenbank was integrated in association law. Raiffeisen Schweiz provides model statutes that each Raiffeisen bank must adopt. I replied that these would then be “compulsory statutes” and that our Raiffeisenbank would thus no longer be autonomous and independent (as is repeatedly stated in advertising brochures). The right to amend the model statutes lies with the meeting of delegates, the supreme organ of Raiffeisen Switzerland.
I also critisised that the Chairman of the BoD, in his annual report, which was entitled “The cooperative lives”, only vaguely told what reforms (Reform 21) the Raiffeisen Group now wanted to introduce; the information on this was very scarce.
I now expect my Raiffeisen bank to report transparently on the reform process on a regular basis over the next year and, at the next AGA, to put an item on the agenda in favour of the cooperative members’ right to petition. That is the only way to breathe life into the principle of cooperatives again.    •

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