We’re on our way to the Flevopolder in the Netherlands to meet Joost Augusteijn, Rabobank’s brand strategist. Instead of inviting us to his office, he has asked us to meet him at an organic dairy farm in the middle of the Dutch polder.
“I think it will help you understand our story,” he told us over the phone.
“It’s quite amazing,” says Anouk as we drive through the flat polder landscape, “while banks around the world are struggling, Rabobank seems to be going from strength to strength. I wonder what their secret is?”
“Well, let’s find out,” I say as we pull up in front of a large estate.
“Welcome to the countryside!” says Joost as he gestures towards the lush fields stretching to the horizon. “Let me show you around!”
As we enter the cowsheds, Anouk turns to Joost: “So we’re curious to know why you brought us here – what does organic farming have to do with Rabobank’s ongoing success?”
Joost laughs. “Well actually, the two are very closely related: I brought you here to show you our beginnings. It all goes back to our cooperative roots. They continue to shape our vision today.
“In 1896, a group of farmers started their own funds and financing system since official banks were reluctant to do business with them. And this is still who we are today: a bank founded by farmers who help each other in hard times. Failed harvest, floods, droughts, cattle diseases – you name it, and we’ve been there.”
We continue our sightseeing around the estate and arrive at the fields behind the barn, where dozens of black and white cows are quietly grazing. “I still don’t get it though,” I say to Joost, “what makes you more resistant in the current crisis than other banks, what’s the secret?”
“The answer lies in our cooperative philosophy: we have no shareholders, only members,” says Joost. “This means that, unlike other banks, we don’t have to focus on short-term profit to satisfy others. We can fully concentrate on our customers and our long-term strategy. The only people we have to please are our customers.”
“But how do you translate that into a model for growth and expansion?” I ask, as we enter a large room where the cheese-making process is in full swing.
“We work on the premise that together we can achieve more than alone,” Joost says as we walk into the storage space where large circular cheeses are stacked on shelves. “Everything we do is based on this conviction. It is the reason we exist: what farmers couldn’t accomplish on their own, they achieved together.
We still stick to this cooperative philosophy: making connections. We make connections to the customer, to society, to the future and to each other. These are the four pillars of the Rabobank brand.”
Joost stops and turns to us with a wink: “And that,” he says, “is our secret.”
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