One way to challenge the preeminence of big banks is to build a small one. The story of Avon Mutual

The crest of the Avon Mutual

The crest of the Avon Mutual

You may recoil from the idea of a “good” bank. But before the financial deregulations of the last 40 years, the local “savings bank” was thriving - that is, as independent local banks working for, controlled by and answerable to their customers. (A member of A/UK recalls the Airdrie Savings Bank operating in his Monklands home, effectively until only a few years ago).

It’s time to revive them, says the CSBA - the Community Savings Bank Association. From their blurb below (the video is helpful too):

This is not a new idea. This is a very old idea. This is a good idea, updated for today’s world and learning from yesterday’s mistakes. We want to create a UK-wide network of customer-owned, regional banks to serve the every day financial needs of ordinary people, local community groups, and small and medium sized companies.

These are Regional Anchor institutions, committed to inclusive growth and recycling local savings to make local loans - creating and storing wealth in each region, held in trust for the benefit of the current members and those that come after them.

While there’s been a lot of talk about the creation of new kinds of banks at a regional level - eg, the Scottish National Investment Bank, the Greater London Mutual - the Avon Mutual seems to be picking up a lot of speed, supported by the Royal Society of Arts (RSA).

Jules Peck - whose Real Economy think tank we have profiled here before - is behind the AM. In a blog for the RSA, he outlines their mission:

I’ve been lucky enough to have lived right across the wonderful region of the West, growing up in the rural Cotswolds and Cheltenham, then rural Forest of Dean and super-urban Bristol. Although I’ve also lived in London, Brussels, Seville and Australia I returned to my roots here about ten years ago and so it feels a real privilege to be able to give something back by helping this revolution in banking take place here in my home patch.

Anyone who knows this area knows that it’s on fire with all sorts of community-led initiatives building a new community wealth based economy. It makes the region the perfect place to be launching this new bank.

We’ll be partnering with everyone from local authorities and universities to Transition groups, Bristol and Bath Regional Capital, Bristol Pound, community energy groups, credit unions and a host of others who are important anchor institutions in the region’s community wealth building ecosystem.

For more ideas about locally based “People’s Banking”, see this 2016 report from Common Weal.