Peter Breiter gets up in the morning, crosses the street and starts his working day at a bank. The difference with a normal bank is that he is the sole manager, cashier and even cleaner of the Raiffeisen Gammesfeld eG cooperative bank.
However, Peter in not alone. In his country, Germany, small banks are common sights. His one-man operation puts him at the top of the 10 smallest banks in the country list but there are over 1000 thousand small banks dotted across Germany. In the 1970s, there were around 7,000.
Despite running a very small bank, Peter Breiter’s days are not all relaxed. The banker works everyday and hardly has a holiday. His bank serves the 500 inhabitants of Gammesfeld, a small village in the south of Germany. His daily routine is spent attending to his customers – writing transaction slips by hand, providing villagers with cash, and offering loans. He provides all traditional banking services, except for online banking or credit card services. The bank makes an annual profit of 40,000 euros on average and has agreed on loans up to 650,000 euros. Unlike traditional banks, the purpose of this one is to serve the community. As such, all customers have access to the same services and the same interest rates.
In Germany, small cooperative banks are closely linked to the Mittelstand – the country’s medium-sized, family-run companies. “The Mittelstand is the lifeblood of Germany, and these are often our customers,” Steffen Steudel, a spokesman for the BVR cooperative banking group association told Reuters. Gammesfeld has many Mittelstand customers among it -ranging from farmers, to solar panel makers.
The bank’s success has been praised all over the country and many have requested its services. Since the bank is linked to the community, Breiter was forced to refuse. Additionally, many have called Breiter and other Grammesfeld representatives to enquiry as to how the bank’s business formula and success can be replicated.
In today’s global world, such a small bank seems like a giant step backwards. However, with the longlasting financial and political crisis in Europe, we could see a return to such local schemes. This return to the community has also been felt through the proliferation of local currencies in Europe – and in Germany particularly.