'Our values have always been community, responsibility and solidarity. They have not changed but the world has'
[Source: Article from "thenews.coop", 5 September 2018 - Author: Anca Voinea]
With a 23.3% market share of French household deposits and total assets of €1.72tn, Crédit Agricole is France’s second largest bank.
Perhaps less known is the fact that the bank is a co-operative. Through a network of local credit co-operatives and a number of subsidiaries, in France and abroad, it provides retail, corporate, insurance, and investment banking services.
We spoke to Pascal Delheure, deputy general director of Crédit Agricole’s national federation, to learn how the group has sought to stay loyal to its co-operative roots while remaining competitive in a tough market.
“Crédit Agricole was born out of the need for finance within the agricultural sector,” he says. “It developed locally, based on geographical proximity and the will of the people to empower each other and create solidarity among themselves to finance agriculture.”
The bank emerged at a time when the agricultural sector struggled to find affordable credit. In 1884, France passed an act allowing freedom of association, breaking the Jacobin centralised tradition. On 5 November 1894, members of farm unions were authorised to set up Crédit Agricole’s local banks.
“Our values have always been community, responsibility and solidarity. They have not changed but the world has,” said Mr Delheure.
The value of community is twofold, bringing a geographical presence in local communities and fostering relationships with people who lived in them. With 39 regional banks, 27 million retail customers in France, Crédit Agricole serves a wide range of customers, including farmers.
Mr Delheure says the bank still strives to support people and help them develop, something determined by its values of responsibility and solidarity. It has helped the agricultural sector during multiple crises as well as helping it keep up with the rapid changes of modern society. This includes developing financial tools to help people deal with issues such as job losses or restructuring.
“The three values are still current. Combining our three values is our raison d’être. We are still serving a purpose,” he said. “Being a mutual bank is about maintaining our presence at local and rural level. Our proximity enables us to do so. We have a strong position and we create connections at local level. In a world where everything is going global, our model is local, but it benefits from a local presence.”
To support rural areas, Crédit Agricole developed a network of start-ups across 25 villages, connecting aspiring entrepreneurs with established enterprises. The bank now plans to roll out the initiative to other countries.
“We create wealth within the territory and we stay there,” adds Mr Delheure.
Through its network of 39 regional banks, the co-operative ensures that decisions are taken at local level, rather than in Paris, he says. “We didn’t restructure around the great regions, we have stayed local for the client, this is what it means being a mutual bank.”
Regional banks can also experiment with providing new services. If these are successful, they can be implemented in other territories, as well as nationally.
Does the growing importance of digital services pose a threat to its model? Mr Delheure says Crédit Agricole gives clients a range of digital services while focusing on one-to-one advice and support in its branches.
Last November, it introduced a low-cost online banking service. The EKO service, created to address competition from fintechs and other online financial providers, will provide an account, debit card, mobile app and access to local branches for €2 a month.
The bank hopes the app will help customers improve their budgeting by sending alerts when their account balance is below €20, if they don’t have an authorised overdraft. They will also gain access to other services offered by the bank, such as credit, insurance or saving.
“As a co-operative bank, we have a specific governance model and decentralised approach, but also just because we are a co-operative bank, it does not mean clients will come to us. We need to maintain our local presence, have confidence in ourselves and provide excellent services.”
“Our ambition is being more than a bank. It is in our DNA. Crédit Agricole was set up in France due to a need for solidarity and autonomy, just like other credit co-operatives were set up in Europe around the same time. There is still a need for values. Our model is bottom-up, from local to global.”
Just like Crédit Agricole itself, Mr Delheure feels very connected to his local roots. He joined Crédit Agricole’s local network in Aveyron in 1984, and has been with the mutual ever since. “I am Aveyronnais, French, European and a global citizen, in this order,” he says.
Source: Article from "thenews.coop", 5 September 2018 - Author: Anca Voinea