Cooperative has 33 days to find 30 million euros and become a bank
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Cooperative has 33 days to find 30 million euros and become a bank

© Belga

A race against the clock has begun for a cooperative that aims to become a bank with a difference.

Launched at the start of the decade, NewB launched a vast campaign on Friday to raise 30 million euros by 27 November and become a “cooperative, sustainable and ethical” bank after receiving an authorisation from the Financial Services and Markets Authority, FSMA.

“We’ve just received the green light from the FSMA,” NewB President Bernard Bayot said at a news conference. “From 2.00 p.m., we shall launch a capitalisation campaign that will last 33 days and is aimed at raising 30 million euros, a sine qua non condition, and probably the last one, for obtaining a favourable decision from the European Central Bank (ECB) on the application for a banking license.”

Should the fundraising go as planned, and the ECB grants the license – a decision is expected by 24 February 2020 at the latest – NewB could begin its banking activities by May or June next. Its operations, according to the bank-to-be, will be “ethical, transparent and 100% directed towards the energy transition” with loans entirely focused on soft mobility, energy-efficient buildings and small-scale production of renewable energy.

“It’s an important, and even historic, moment since there has not been a bank created from scratch in Belgium in over 50 years,” noted Bayot.

With a membership of 52,500 individuals and 155 organisations, NewB is optimistic about its ability to raise 30 million euros in a month. “It’s a real challenge,” Bayot admitted. “There are few precedents. There’s an unknown element. But we are confident.”

To raise the capital it needs, the cooperative is targeting private individuals, who can obtain shares from as little as 20 euros, as well as institutional investors. Two of them have already made concrete commitments. The Foundation for Future Generations is investing 400,000 euros while the Smart Cooperative is chipping in with 200,000. Discussions are ongoing with other actors.

The CNE, which has already invested in NewB, has decided to increase its investment, even if the amount is still to be defined, Felipe Van Keirsbilck, Secretary-General of the Christian trade union, told the Belga news agency. “Other unions are going to do likewise,” he said.

The funds raised during the campaign will deposited in a blocked account at the Belfius Bank. NewB will only be able to access it if the 30-million-euro threshold is attained and the BCE gives the thumbs up to the creation of the new bank. Failing that, every investor will be fully reimbursed, the cooperative’s officials say.

To mark the launch of the capital-raising campaign, NewB has invited its members to a festive evening this Friday at the site of the old Brussels Stock Exchange. Hundreds are expected to attend.

Oscar Schneider
The Brussels Times