Our history

Since 1872, we’ve been putting our ethics into action…

You could say that doing the right thing has always been our thing. Because unlike a lot of businesses, we haven’t just developed an ethical approach — we’ve had one from the very start.

Not just helping people with their money, but helping our customers and colleagues campaign for the causes they care about.

A history we're proud of

Learn more about how our story began with our interactive timeline, which takes you through our journey as the original ethical bank.

Our highlights through the years

That meant things like supporting local communities, behaving fairly and honestly, and paying workers a proper wage. We were the original ethical bank, founded by real people with a real desire to challenge the status quo by creating a fairer, co-operative business.

In fact, we’ve always believed in fairness for all. That’s why in 1974, we became the first UK bank to offer free banking services for accounts in credit. And in 1976, our Handybanks appeared in Co-operative shops; giving customers access to their money outside of banking hours, making sure our customers could have what they need, when they needed it.

We became the first UK high street bank to launch a customer-led Ethical Policy in 1992, giving our customers a say in who we are and how we do business. Over the years we’ve continually developed our Ethical Policy to help tackle our customers concerns, such as refusing to support the activities of oppressive regimes happening around the world, saying no to animal testing for cosmetics, supporting Fairtrade, and not financing fossil fuel extraction.

We continued to champion causes that mattered to our customers, leading to successful campaigns such as opposing anti-gay hate speech and our Big Ask campaign, involving customers lobbying MPs to vote for the adoption of a climate change bill. And with this unwavering determination to take a real stand on climate change, from 2007 our operations became beyond carbon neutral, and have stayed that way ever since.

All of our work so far led to us being the first UK bank to sign the Paris Pledge and be included in the 'Don't Bank on the Bomb' Hall of Fame. Furthering our commitment to building a better society, we used our voices and our money to support causes like; Refuge, working together to challenge economic abuse and Centrepoint, with their mission to end youth homelessness. Causes we’re still supporting to this day.

We committed to further funding for co-operatives and social enterprises to access advice, business support, and mentoring; helping them to grow and create sustainable businesses. We also joined the Zero Hour campaign in support of the Climate and Nature Bill (formerly the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill); calling on the government to demand sector-wide change to address the climate and nature emergency, once and for all.

Now, looking to the future

Although we’re proud of our history and achievements, the problems facing our communities and planet aren’t going away. So we aren’t stopping there.

We’ve always had a drive to create a bank that’s different, with an Ethical Policy that makes a difference. That’s why we held our sixth Values & Ethics Poll in August 2021, ahead of our refreshed Ethical Policy launch in 2022. Using your voices in the here and now, to continue to guide how we do things.

Ethical then, ethical now, ethical always.

Read more about our values and Ethical Policy.

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