Alternative Banking – some suggestions

The Alternative Banking working group of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) is meeting this afternoon.  Here are some suggestions for the meetng:


Here are a few notes to get us started this afternoon.  These are just suggestions for discussion.

First, an introduction.  I am a former British diplomat, one of two who resigned over the Iraq war.  I was in the foreign service for 15 years.  I founded and now run a non-profit diplomatic advisory group, Independent Diplomat, which is headquartered in New York City, where I live with my family (American wife, two twins).  Our meeting today will be at Independent Diplomat’s offices.
I started the Alternative Banking group because I believe that we can use the energy, creativity and publicity unleashed by OWS to do something extraordinary.  It is clear that the banking system lies at the heart of our current political and economic crisis.  Change that system, and we can produce change that spreads beyond the banking system alone.  Personally, I no longer believe that we can change the system by asking Washington.  My preference is to replace the current system by constructing a better one.
I would therefore suggest that the group focus on concrete and practical steps to take us towards a better system.  These might include encouraging the public to “move their money” to better banks today, such as credit unions.  But this may not be enough to foster the dramatic and far-reaching change we seek.  Instead, we might imagine and then – if we can – construct a better system.
What would be the characteristics of such a system?
– It should be accessible to all equally – in contrast to the dominant banks today which exclude many, above all the poorest and most marginalized;
– it should be democratic – rather than beholden to share-holders and private owners, it should be run by its customers, perhaps as a cooperative;
– it should be robust – its lending and other practices should be designed to limit the violent instability that we have seen in recent years (for instance, by mutualizing all loans and other risks);
– it should promote the other values OWS embodies, including environmental sustainability, social justice and transparency (it might for instance be based on a rule that the highest paid employees are paid no more than, say, eight times the lowest, as Spanish cooperative Mondragon does);
And finally,
– it should be competitive with the services offered by the mainstream “mega” banks: if we are to have any chance of replacing the current system, rather than being marginal to it, we must imagine and create an alternative that is easy and credible for ordinary people, across the country and perhaps across the world, to use.
In my dream world, I imagine a bank that everyone can use, offers cheaper and better services than profit-seeking banks, and in its very nature encourages profound political change – by showing, rather than telling, a better way to run the economy, promoting values of equality, participation and good stewardship, both towards each other and the environment, but also towards the economy itself – values which are notable by their absence in the dominant banking system today.  Credit unions embody many of these characteristics, but they have yet to go “mainstream”. Perhaps we can help make that happen.
Anyway, these are just suggestions.  I’m sure everyone will have their own thoughts.  I am looking forward to getting to work.

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