- The public event and General Assembly organized yearly by the European Federation of Ethical and Alternative Banks and Financiers was hosted by the Greek member, Cooperative Bank of Chania
- The event gathered more than 200 delegates from 17 different countries, the largest number of participants attending an Ethical Finance event in Europe.
Athens, Greece – The Annual Conference of the European Federation of Ethical and Alternative Banks (FEBEA), organized by the Cooperative Bank of Chania, concluded successfully on September 26th, 2023. The conference provided a platform for over 200 participants to engage in meaningful discussions, and it also featured the esteemed presence of Professor Paul H Dembinski, director of the Observatoire de la Finance in Geneva, who delivered a thought-provoking keynote address.
On the 25th of September, the FEBEA General Assembly convened, marking the commencement of a series of consequential discussions and presentations in the days that followed. This General Assembly stands out as the most heavily attended in FEBEA’s history, and it culminated in the election of the new Board of Directors for the organization, who will serve a three-year term. Pedro Manuel Sasia Santos was appointed as the Chairman, Panagiotis Tournavitis assumed the role of Vice-Chairman, and Anne Sophie Bougouin was designated as the Treasurer.
The morning session was followed by a range of workshops and training sessions tailored to meet the needs of our members, covering topics such as communication strategies, impact management, and European funding instruments.
On the morning of the 26, the day of the public Conference, the president of FEBEA, Pedro M. Sasia Santos highlighted the need to carefully diagnose the complexity of the international environment at a time of great change. Also, the president of the Board of the Cooperative Bank of Chania Mr. Michail Marakakis welcomed the members of FEBEA to Athens and noted the contribution of the Cooperative Bank of Chania to local development and its support of the economy with a sense of responsibility.
Throughout the conference, eight FEBEA member institutions showcased their activities and their far-reaching impact on various societal levels through their economic initiatives. Thematic discussions highlighted the mission of ethical banks and innovative practices aimed at making a positive impact on local communities. At the first panel, Boosting local impact, how do ethical financiers invest in their communities, Donal Traynor CEO of Community Finance Ireland presented the impact they have in their communities, Giacomo Pinaffo, Secretary General at Fondazione di Comunità Di messina and Crhyssa Despotaki, CEO from Cooperative Bank of Chania spoke about Initiatives undertaken to support the local community.
During the afternoon session the panel Finance designed for Impact: How ethical banks create impact took place with Tommaso Rondinella, Head of Socio Environmental Assessment Office in Banca Etica, Amandine Platet, Communications Responsible in La Nef, Judith Capello, Sustainability Coordinator in Banque Alternative Suisse, Jannike Østervold, CEO of Cultura Bank and Panagiotis Tournavitis, CEO of Cooperative Bank of Karditsa.
Professor Dembinski’s address focused on the “Ambiguities of Finance for Sustainability.” He emphasized the urgent need for businesses to adopt a new approach, aligning their operations with ambitious sustainability goals. He articulated the concept of “achieving financial strength by doing good,” urging the financial sector to embrace its responsibility and transition towards ethical banking practices. Professor Dembinski highlighted the importance of real investment in sustainability, underscoring the need to reform decision-making processes. He also addressed the issue of greenwashing, emphasizing the importance of genuine environmental, moral, and social considerations in executive compensation.
High level Representatives of key FEBEA partner organisations such as the European Microfinance Network, the Microfinance Centre, the Global Alliance for Banking on Values, the European Investment Fund, the European Investment Bank and the Council of Europe Development Bank, were also present at the event.
During the opening remarks, the President of FEBEA, Mr. Pedro M. Sasia Santos underlined the fact that: “Ethics can be learned and taught,” highlighting the need to carefully diagnose the complexity of the international environment at a time of great change. He also referred to certain FEBEA priorities to be strongly set in the public debate, in view of the upcoming European elections, on the integration of social impact and good governance in financial products, the support for the energy transition in a sustainable way, and the increasing risk of greenwashing.
Chryssa Despotaki, General Manager of the Cooperative Bank of Chania, emphasized their significant support for the business community, including a substantial loan portfolio of 485 million euros, primarily dedicated to business loans. Supported by institutions such as the European Investment Fund and the Greek Development Bank, the Bank of Chania has built a robust investment portfolio of almost 445 million euros, primarily benefiting small and medium-sized enterprises, small businesses, farmers, and freelancers for development purposes, working capital, and green initiatives.
Donal Traynor of Community Finance Ireland shared their success story as the sole provider of social finance in Ireland, granting 95 million euros in loans, mostly without guarantees, at favorable interest rates. Their focus on regional economic revival encompasses social housing, infrastructure, fiber optic networks, and job creation.
Giacomo Pinaffo from the Fondazione di Comunitá di Messina, operating in Sicily, focuses on creating opportunities for beneficiaries through housing, employment, education, social networking, and capital empowerment via grants, loans, and microfinance.
Amandine Platet, representing La Nef, discussed the cooperative bank’s commitment to building a fairer and more sustainable society by allocating 800 million euros to 7,000 projects, with plans to expand their network of partners.
Judith Capello, a spokeswoman for Alternative Bank Switzerland, highlighted the bank’s commitment to doing good and the importance of data quality and availability in decision-making and policy design.
Panagiotis Tournavitis, CEO of the Cooperative Bank of Karditsa, emphasized the concept of endurance and the importance of IT systems and innovative solutions for infrastructure security, while stressing the need for organizational resilience in the face of unforeseen events.
Jannike Ostervold described the philosophy of Cultura Bank, Norway’s sole bank that informs depositors about the use of their funds, emphasizing the bank’s commitment to transparency and ethical lending.
During the panel discussion on ‘Ethical Finance in changing times,’ several prominent figures highlighted the growing importance of ethical banking in supporting social and economic development:
- Mr. George Christopoulos, Secretary General of Economic Policy and Strategy, emphasized that ethical banking can serve as a catalyst for bolstering the social economy. He stressed the need for banks to play a more active role in addressing local needs and supporting non-conventional businesses that offer significant social as well as economic value.
- Mr. Georgios Stathakis, former Minister of Economy and Environment, underscored the necessity of diversifying the Greek banking system to accommodate a wider spectrum of Greek entrepreneurship that remains underserved by traditional banks. He highlighted challenges in climate change, energy conservation, new production models, and digital transformation as areas where cooperative banks can make a positive impact.
- Ms. Theodora Antonakaki, Director of the Bank of Greece’s Climate Change and Sustainability Centre, emphasized that the financial sector can play a significant role in transitioning to a sustainable growth model. She pointed out that climate-related risks can destabilize the banking system and called for ethical finance practices to inspire the creation of environmentally and socially significant financial products through stakeholder cooperation.
- Mr. Ioannis Filis, Emeritus Professor, and former Rector of the Technical University of Crete, linked global warming to irresponsible environmental investments, citing examples of uneven financing between fossil fuels and renewable energy. He called for banks to align with the Paris Agreement, withdraw from fossil fuel projects, and prioritize funding with clear sustainability and transparency objectives.
- Professor Panagiotis Liargovas, President of KEPE and the National Productivity Council, highlighted that ethical banking has become a necessity due to technological advancements, globalization, regulatory controls, and ethical consumerism. He noted the potential of blockchain technology to enhance transparency and security in financial transactions.
- Professor Nikolaos Filippas, President and Founder of the Institute of Financial Literacy at the University of Piraeus, focused on promoting women’s financial empowerment as a means to combat discrimination. He argued that ethical finance can promote equal access to economic opportunities for women, contributing to a fair and progressive society with financial stability and sustainable development.
- Mr. Fotis Kourmousis, executive member of the Board of Directors of the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund, discussed the shift towards sustainability criteria for loan and investment assessment. He highlighted the global growth of sustainable investment over the past two decades, emphasizing the significance of responsible investment principles established by the United Nations.
These discussions underscored the evolving role of ethical banking in addressing contemporary economic, social, and environmental challenges while fostering inclusive and sustainable development.
The Annual FEBEA Conference served as a testament to the commitment of ethical banks across Europe and beyond, promoting financial practices that prioritize sustainability and social responsibility. As the global financial landscape evolves, these institutions are leading the way in creating a more equitable and environmentally conscious future.
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FEBEA – the European Federation of Ethical and Alternative Banks and Financiers – is a non-profit association based in Brussels. It gathers 33 financial institutions whose aim is to finance social and solidarity economy (SSE) and projects with social, environmental and cultural value in 17 European countries, serving more than 700,000 people.
Its objective is to support the exchange of experiences and promote cooperation between social economy and social finance practitioners.
Each FEBEA member is integrated in the SSE Sector in its country, focusing on mobilising savings and equity from responsible citizens and using these funds to finance sustainable development and local communities. FEBEA is member of GECES, the European Commission’s expert Group on Social Economy and Social Entrepreneurship and of Social Economy Europe, the main European network of social economy practitioners.
FEBEA members finance:
- The creation of jobs, social employment in particular;
- Social enterprises and social economy;
- The non-profit sector and participatory economics;
- New forms of social entrepreneurship
- People or groups of people who are victims of social or professional exclusion or are unbanked;
- Sustainable development: renewable sources of energy, organic farming, biodiversity, etc.;
- International solidarity and fair trade.