Co-op banking on feedback – risky business?

Penny for your thoughts?
Penny for your thoughts?

As far as publicly admitting there’s “trouble at t’mill” goes, this is pretty strong stuff.

I should probably wedge “beleaguered” in here somewhere but it is fair to say that by opening his arms to feedback with the Have Your Say survey, beleaguered (ooh, there it is!) group chief executive Euan Sutherland of the Co-operative Group could be opening a can of very hard to swallow worms.

There’s a real chance he won’t like what the public and loyal customer base has to say but…isn’t that a good thing?

I can't photoshop worms - sorry
I can’t Photoshop worms – sorry

The fact that the Co-op is unafraid to ask such difficult questions of itself may make painful reading once the results are in (and the media gets hold of them) but it is the sort of approach that one might expect of their brand values.

Sutherland pledged to listen and act on views of those who take part in the survey, including customers, members, staff and the wider public.

He said: “In recent years The Co-operative Group has lost touch with its customers and members and with the communities in which it operates – we haven’t been listening.” He added: “We will be asking people up and down the country what they believe The Co-operative should really stand for.

“This is an unprecedented move for an organisation of the size and the scale of The Co-operative and the results will feed directly into our wider review of strategy and purpose.”

Can you imagine any other banks doing this? It harks back nicely to the sort of open and more “honest” approach that garnered its loyal support previous to the abandoned Lloyds takeover its own financial catastrophe and of course the case of the “Crystal Methodist” as some commentators have dubbed the disgraced former Chairman, Paul Flowers.

I applaud them for such a bold move (a move that is sure to generate plenty of column inches) but would fear for what those column inches will say. It will dredge up all of the old ghosts and perhaps make some who hadn’t followed the saga too closely all the more painfully aware. That might not be a good thing.

Flowers scandal
Flowers scandal

Especially not with Tesco and Virgin lurking on the fringes, ready to offer up their own unique brand of high street banking. Plus, is the Co-op what it once was anyway? It is now technically owned by a hedge fund as part of its refinancing – that surely goes against the grain of most traditional supporters and members?

The Co-op will post its annual results at the end of March. They are not expected to make great reading. I’m not sure the results of this survey will either – bold move that it is.