Birth of The Commons
Notes from Alternative Banking Meeting of Wednesday 11-23-11
Held at 45 East 20th Street- Office of Independent Diplomat
Basic Goal of the group was crystalized. Goal = the actual creation of a functioning, working financial institution that will embody principals to be determined.
It was decided that a few items would be needed at this time to further the discussions of the group and foster action.
1- A working inventory of present and possibly imagined alternative bank/financial institution structures.
2- An inventory of attributes that would be desired in the proposed working financial institution.
3- To provide a focus, a working name for the endeavor was discussed. “The Commons- A Good Bank” was chosen.
Next scheduled meeting was set for Wednesday, Nov. 30th. 7pm. Location: 45 East 20th street – Office of Independent Diplomat.
Carne Ross convened the meeting around 7pm.
In attendance, in alphabetical order, was: Mark Anthony, Don Butterfield, Joe Costanzo, Leo Eisenstein, G.J. Jones, Nikki Leger, Michele Moore, Sue Peters, Carne Ross, Alex Tufel.
A brief summary of a meeting held last week at 60 Wall Street was given.
Carne set the tone and voiced that the group needed to produce something that could be taken to the GA of OWS. He stated that we should move forward and use the momentum generated thus far to produce a practical enterprise.
A discussion ensued and it was brought out that the group has been receiving some good media attention with positive write-ups in the Huffington Post and the Financial Times.
Carne proposed that a basic working list of attributes that would be desirable in any new financial institution. Proposed that any such organization be:
1- Democratic – every account holder and employee should be given one vote. Size of account or relationship would not imply greater or lesser voting rights or influence.
2- Participatory – Account holders/employees to be involved and engaged in institution’s actions.
3- Universal Accessibility – this would be an additional advantage over the Credit Union model, which is based on geography or affinity.
4- Non-profit – would allow for better services and rates to be passed on to the end user.
5- Mutualized Liabilities – Proposed entity would function more as a clearing house. Liabilities to be spread out.
6- Transparency – Transparency must be a basic tenant of the enterprise.
Discussion ensued. Someone mentioned Laurence Kotlikoff and his model for Limited Purpose Banking. Serendipitously, Alex Tufer produced Kotlikoff’s book on the spot.
Jim Costanzo strongly made the point that the basic system is broken and that fixes of the present system was not enough.
It was proposed that any enterprise should also have caps or limits for the spread between the highest and lowest paid employee. A guideline of 8:1 was suggested as a point of departure.
Carne suggested that it would be plausible to find financing and possibly acquire a financial institution. Discussion then began on whether rich donors would be a help or a hindrance, and whether such donors could be anonymous.
It was noted that any proposed institution could be a model — a template – where people could more easily create local entities. Size and characteristics of Credit Unions was discussed. The former Shorebank, the Community Development bank based in Chicago was mentioned. Nikki Leger suggested that CUs could and do expand by using affinity rather than geography. Jim talked about State run institutions. North Dakota’s model should be looked at.
Discussed Benefit Corporations – B Corps – This is a new but growing class of incorporation. They are required to operate with the purpose of creating a material positive impact on society. Right now only a very small handful of financial entities are B Corp.
Carne made a point that any proposed entity should not be complex – that simplicity would be a tremendous benefit and that people would respond to this.
The need for a working name for this new endeavor was brought up. Peoples’ Bank, New Bank, Better Bank, Good Bank, were all discussed. Nikki Leger then suggested The Commons, a name the group liked immediately. It was brought up whether even “Bank” was needed in the actual name. Michele Moore immediately started investigating name availabilities.
Discussion moved to what format to continue the conversation. It was decided that we would try and resurrect the previously briefly used Google groups.
Leo Eisenstein suggested ways for fostering connections with other OWS entities.
Meeting closed – will re-convene next Wednesday Nov. 30th 7pm. Location: 45 East 29th Street- Office of Independent Diplomat.