It is safe to say the reputation of the financial services sector has suffered something of a battering in recent years. Austerity measures cut deep – and continue to seriously impact on communities - in the wake of the 2007/08 financial crisis. A sense of injustice lingered long following bank bailouts and much maligned ‘fat cat’ bonuses and pay-offs.
But the sector-wide tarring is not completely fair. The brush can paint a different picture – on an ethically-sourced canvass. Derby-based Co-operative Wealth, created in 2012, is enshrined in the values of self-help, equality, solidarity and ethics.
Stuart Mann said: “Co-operative Wealth was developed from an idea where myself and co-founder Charles Mosley felt big businesses - banks and building societies - were letting their long-standing clients down.
“Having sold to them for many years and made large sums of profit, they just walked away when regulation became too tough or there was not enough money - dare I say profit - to be made.
“Where do these customers go, having purchased complex investment based products? Very few deal with the average household now, focusing predominantly on the top five per cent of wealth.”
The answer to this question is Co-operative Wealth – or similar organisations. But it is not just the customers who receive a fair deal from Co-operative Wealth. The employees, Co-op Wealth’s members, have equal rights and benefits.
Stuart Mann said: “All being on one level, striving for the same goal with very similar beliefs, means we are able to challenge each other and ensure all feed into the direction of the business. We all bring something to the party by way of knowledge or enthusiasm - or just support.”
It is an extension of the benefits - with the added bonus of pooled resources and expertise - afforded to those in self-employment. The Co-operative Wealth co-founder added: “The reward from ‘sailing your own ship’ is second to none. You live and die by you own decisions and work ethic. I love being my own boss.”
He does believe government could do more to support the growing army of self-employed – whether through measures of support targeted at individuals or assistance in setting up as, for assistance, a co-operative.
Stuart Mann said: “Irregularity of income is one of the biggest challenges, though benefits such as sick pay or holiday pay go unappreciated until you become your self-employed.
“Getting started and having the capital to develop your idea makes life really tough. You need to watch every penny and create regular income streams to survive.
“Further support is needed to support initiatives - be that tax breaks or capital investment. Local government in local areas should be key stakeholders in helping their local economy grow.”
Trade union support covering, but not exclusive to, legal, financial and HR areas would also be beneficial according to the financial adviser. Those steps could lead to the proliferation of organisations with a similar mindset to Co-operative Wealth, improving the overall perception of businesses operating in the financial services.
One thing for certain is that Co-operative Wealth deals with money matters - and money does matter. But its co-operative values ensure that it is not money at all cost.