Hans Groeneveld: putting the spotlight on financial co-operatives

13 Feb 2015

One of the things that distinguishes co-operative studies from many other academic fields is the active involvement of co-op practitioners in both research and teaching; or conversely, the direct involvement of academics in the co-op movement itself.  That isn’t too surprising in a movement that has “Education, Training and Information” as one of its guiding principles.

The appointment of Hans Groeneveld, Senior Vice-President of Co-operative and Governance Affairs at Rabobank as Distinguished Professor of Co-operative Financial Services at the TIAS School for Business and Society at Tilburg University, is but one example.  Rabobank is the Netherlands’  largest co-operative financial group and the fourth largest in the world, and Dr. Groeneveld – an economist by training – held a variety of senior and managerial positions there before taking up his current position.

Dr. Groeneveld publicly accepted his university appointment on 13 February 2015 and the topic of his inaugural address was directly connected to both co-op research and co-op practice:  Member-based enterprises: The spotlight on financial services co-operatives.  He pointed to data showing that co-operative financial institutions are more stable than other financial services institutions, operating with higher capital levels and with less volatile returns on assets and equities.  The financial crisis of 2007-2010, he said, was a “blessing in disguise” for co-operative banks: while they were not untouched by the crisis, they performed well in comparison with investor-owned banks and attracted significant media and academic interest.

The main challenges for financial co-operatives, he said, include the adherence to an expression of co-operative values and principles and member participation, as well as future commercial performance, capitalization, achievement of operational excellence and stricter regulatory and supervisory requirements.

He concluded his address with an emphasis on the importance of both management and governance.

“The co-operative business model is strong, but like any other business financial co-operatives can sometimes fail; there is no substitute for competent management and good governance. Indeed, how co-operative banks tackle all challenges is largely determined by the set-up and functioning of the representative democracy, i.e. how and to what extent members participate in strategy, control, supervision, policy and decision-making.”