In this series we get to know our co-operative members. Today we talk with The Co-operative Bank CEO David Cunningham about the bank, their vision, being a co-operative and how they keep shareholders engaged.

Founded in 1928, the business was initially known as the Public Service Investment Society and subsequently renamed PSIS. In 2011, it became a registered bank and was renamed The Co-operative Bank. Today the bank serves more than 171,000 customers throughout New Zealand. 


1. David - tell us about the vision for The Co-operative Bank?

    Our vision is “to change banking for good” and our purpose is “to benefit our customers”.  As a co-operative business we do have to be profitable because this enables us to grow our lending and invest in the business, but we ultimately exist for the benefit of customers. We use our vision, purpose and beliefs to help guide our decision-making.

    2. What is your main point of difference?

    Our external brand positioning is “doing right by people”.  We bring this to life in many ways, including being customer-owned and sharing our profits with our customers through an annual rebate. Also, being primarily a retail bank we are focused on providing simple products with competitive rates.

    Internally, we have a catch-cry of "building brilliantly human banking experiences" – this means we focus on being brilliant at banking, whilst maintaining a human touch. 

    3. What are the key issues you are currently trying to address?

    Banking is a scale business. To get scale we need more customers and more capital, which allows us to lend more to our customers. There is natural inertia amongst New Zealanders to change banks and so you have to work hard to attract new customers - even though it’s pretty easy and can be done in our mobile app. The primary source of capital is retained earnings, which is why we need to be able to get the right balance between our purpose and profitability.

    4. How has COVID-19 affected your operations?

    COVID-19 accelerated change, particularly in the sales and service side of the bank. For example:

    • we removed cash withdrawal services from our branches (after all, we did no cash withdrawals during lockdown)
    • we shortened branch opening hours to 10am to 3pm, which enables staff to focus on digital and email communications and training etc outside those hours
    • we consolidated some branch sites in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch; and relocated to seven ex-AMI sites (following their closure of their branch network)
    • we enabled our entire workforce to work from home
    • we decentralised our inbound phone customer experience, including implementing a new cloud-based contact platform.

    5. What is your organisation doing to make itself future-proof?

    Sustainably lifting our financial performance as well as reshaping and growing the bank are our key platforms for future success. Being in a highly regulated industry, there are many foundational programmes that support this too. We have a laser-focus on delivery of these programmes.

    6. Co-operation among co-operatives is a Rochdale Principle from 1844: how do you work with fellow co-operatives and mutuals?

    In the past, we’ve tried providing discounted banking services for staff of other co-operatives, but we’ve found very little uptake. Probably the main thing we do is participate in co-operative industry forums and share insights and experiences with fellow co-operatives.

    7. From a business leadership perspective, what are the main benefits of being a co-operative?

      We really have a different ethos as a co-operative. Our vision, purpose and beliefs (fairness, mutual benefit, individuality, and the future) guide our decision-making. It means we balance purpose with profit, and have an intense focus on delivering brilliant customer experiences. This is reflected in our market-leading Net Promoter Score.

      8. As a co-operative, how to do keep your shareholders engaged?

        We produce a digital newsletter for customers several times a year, customer (as shareholders) get to vote in Director Elections, and we pay rebates each year. 

        We also have a customer experience survey that runs all year that provides insight into what we’re doing well and what we need to improve. 

        Finally, I frequently talk to customers – for example, if a complaint (or compliment) comes through to me, I always pick up the phone and ring the customer. Most are very surprised the CEO takes the time to do this, and I find it invaluable to get customer feedback and hopefully help resolve any issues they have.