Ethical banks to merge

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The Independent Online
INCREASED regulation looks likely to force the merger of two of Europe's leading ethical banks, Britain's Mercury Provident and Triodos of the Netherlands, writes Paul Gosling.

The institutions are in advanced stages of negotiation. If, as expected, shareholders of the two give approval, a merger could be in place by the beginning of next year.

Mercury Provident was established in 1974 to invest only in projects that benefited the community. Today's loan portfolio includes a wind farm, organic gardens and recycling operators, as well as workers' and housing co-operatives. Interest rates are low; depositors are attracted because they help to decide who will receive loans. Mercury Provident counts quakers among its keenest investors.

Ethical banks in Europe have been offshoots of the green movement. The increasing size of the ethical unit trust market illustrates the growing demand for these financial products.

The Co-operative Bank, which claims in its promotional literature that it likes to say no to arms traders and companies that experiment on animals, has proved successful for the same reasons.

Triodos is much the larger of the two banks. Its balance sheet was valued at pounds 35m in the last accounts, compared with Mercury Provident's pounds 9m. It is expected that the new bank would be registered in the Netherlands, with Triodos formally taking over Mercury.

It is envisaged in the long term that ethical banks in other European Union countries may also wish to amalgamate with the new bank, as semi-autonomous branches. The Belgian charitable trust Mercurius has already become involved by supporting Triodos in opening a new branch at Ghent, in Belgium.

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