‘What we wanted to do was be open and transparent’
The scale of reaction to the news that the Channel Islands Cooperative Society members might not receive a dividend this year has taken its CEO by surprise.
Mark Cox found himself in the firing line after writing to members on Tuesday to tell them that, depending on the board’s decision, the dividend could be reduced or dropped completely following the annual members’ meetings in May.
He said he had expected that the announcement would receive an emotive reaction.
‘The dividend has been around for a long time and it’s unprecedented for us to take this step,’ he said.
‘But the size of the reaction was surprising and probably a little bit disappointing from a personal point of view.’
A lot of people have said they would no longer shop at the Coop but Mr Cox said the business employed some 1,100 staff across the islands, had invested millions in its supermarkets, and as a result the local economy had benefitted too.
‘This is a unique business and we all share in its success,’ he said. ‘We can only do what we do with the support of members.’
Even if a decision was taken to offer no dividend this year, that did not mean there would be none next year, he said.
There was also criticism that the announcement of the potential threat to dividends was not early enough, but Mr Cox said that the society’s financial year ended in the second week of February, and as with any retailer, Christmas was a key period.
‘It would have been wrong to make any sort of announcement in advance,’ he said.
While some angry customers on social media thought that this decision had already been made, Mr Cox stressed that it had not and it was something that the board had yet to consider.
‘What we wanted to do was be open and transparent that there’s a difficult choice for the board to make.’
The society provides members with savings accounts in which they can keep their previous dividends or invest up to £100,000 and earn interest on their savings.
People, particularly in Jersey, started taking money out of these accounts on Wednesday out of fear that they would be impacted but Mr Cox said that the money in these accounts was safe.
Whatever decision was taken at the May members’ meetings would not affect previous years’ dividends or anything in these share accounts, he said.
The society was coping with this demand.
‘The situation is manageable but clearly we’d like people to understand that there is no need to take that action,’ he said.
However, some members decided to close their Coop accounts outright.
‘While I respect anybody’s decision to do this, the difficulty there is if the board decides to pay a reduced dividend, these people will not have the opportunity to earn that dividend because their share account is closed and they will not be able to reopen it. People could lose out.’