Group 2

Freie Gemeinschaftsbank: Allows customers to decide their own fees


25 October 2023

 Freie Gemeinschaftsbank in Basle is the first bank in Switzerland to apply the principle “pay what you want” for banking charges: customers can choose the amount of their monthly account fee. The bank trusts in its customers’ ability to make responsible decisions and believes in a solidarity-based economy.

In 2018, Freie Gemeinschaftsbank (Free Community Bank) introduced bank fees for the first time in its history. Before doing so, however, the bank thought about how the fees model should work, and finally came to a simple yet surprising decision: customers can choose what they want to pay. With the introduction of this new model, the bank seeks to develop mutual trust, that is, customers trust the bank and the bank trusts its customers.

Freie Gemeinschaftsbank proposes an account fee of CHF 5 per month per customer. Around 65% of customers choose this amount. About 15% choose to pay between 1 and 5 CHF and 18% choose not to pay anything at all. A very small percentage of 2.5% choose to pay more than CHF 5 (some even up to CHF 100).

The suspected reason why some people choose not to pay is that, before the “pay what you want” model was introduced, there were no fees at all and, therefore, customers were not used to paying for their accounts at Freie Gemeinschaftsbank. The project also shows that there are people who are willing to pay more for their banking services – because they value them and like to show solidarity with others who are unable to pay the full amount.

Awareness of our relationship with money

Freie Gemeinschaftsbank wants to create a space for customers in which they can develop an awareness of the relationships that are established in monetary processes. One of the bank’s concerns is to make these relationships visible so that customers can make decisions in light of the impact of their decisions. Applied to this example, this means that anyone who pays more than CHF 5 shows solidarity with others who cannot pay the full amount.

Max Ruhri, CEO and Board member of the Freie Gemeinschaftsbank:

“Attention and interest in the needs and impulses of the clients connect them with the monetary processes and open access to shared responsibility for these processes. (…) The essential basis of the Freie Gemeinschaftsbank’s activities is the mutual trust of all investors, beneficiaries and employees. This trust is maintained by fostering mutual awareness and resulting understanding of the needs of others. Freie Gemeinschaftsbank promotes the model of a cooperative, social and sustainable economy.”  


Mutual trust

Freie Gemeinschaftsbank exemplifies a social model of an economy that is based on mutual trust and cooperation instead of competition – and on real relationships instead of anonymity.

They are committed to making connections in money processes visibleFor example, direct loans are provided between investors and beneficiary projects. Investors see exactly what effect their money has and can choose which interest rates they would like to receive (within a range). Higher interest rates lead to higher costs for the beneficiary project. Investors are given the opportunity to see their own needs in light of the needs of others. 

Freie Gemeinschaftsbank trusts in its customers’ ability to make responsible decisions and believes in a solidarity-based economy.

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