As the lifeblood of every economy small businesses are at times a fairground of ride of passion, creativity, risk taking, commitment and increasingly values driven considerations. Rather than me attempting to bravely interpret their stories I thought I’d let them tell you themselves. Some are very new businesses, some are well established. Some are officially social enterprises, some are private limited companies. To me it doesn’t matter.
This is the first in a series about real people with wonderful ideas and lessons to be shared. If you know about an entrepreneur with an unsung story of innovation, success or lessons to be shared let me know and let’s spread the word.
First up is Peter King, Founder of Ethecol. Ethecol is a social enterprise, as a registered Community Interest Company (CIC), that aims to challenge the stale financial services industry. By providing merchant services (Chip & Pin card payment terminals & tariffs) and donating all of the profit from every card transaction to good causes, Ethecol is a beacon of virtue in a stagnant crowd of profit blinkered banks.
For full disclosure, I’m now an advisor and Director of Ethecol, but I have tried to remain as impartial as possible, and many of the subsequent interviews will be from individuals with no formal relationship to myself or the organisations I represent.
So Peter, what is Ethecol?
Theres’ no single answer to that! Ethecol is the trading name of Ethecol Merchant Services CIC (Community Interest Company), a social enterprise that provides chip & pin payment services (terminals, tariffs and e-commerce).
What makes your business different to other providers?
Ethecol is the UK’s first merchant services social enterprise and it’s our aim to challenge the banks exploitation of this particular market. Our main unique selling points are that as well as being by far cheaper (especially for the smallest retailer / business) we donate 100% of the transactional profits to good causes.
Isn’t that just merchant services with a generous CSR policy?
For me CSR is just about common (or not-so-common) sense. We did think about setting up as limited company tp prove a point, but as a small business we needed every ounce of credibility and advantage we could create, especially in the wake of the damage caused by the big banks. We’re not too hung up on descriptions whether its CSR or social enterprise, for us it’s about a compass for making better decisions. My initial understanding of CSR left me thinking it was all about reporting and was far too corporate and institutional. I know it’s much more than that now but its our actions, not what we call them that matter.
I worked in ‘traditional’ merchant services and couldn’t physically, emotionally or morally continue to work for the culture of ever-moving goal posts, most extortionate rates possible and zero respect for people once I knew there was another way, a better way. There is a real toxic culture at the core of all financial services that created the recent economic crisis. It doesn’t have to be that way and I wanted to prove it could be done better.
Apart from donating the profits to good causes how is Ethecol different?
Where do I start?! Ethecol is very collaborative by nature working in many ways with different partners to provide mutual benefit. Everything we do is about looking for win-win scenarios, not win at all cost. We want work to feel different. We want to challenge every aspect of financial services and expect to be challenged back. We’re also building in transparency from the start and aim to use it as a strength. We want as many as possible to learn from our successes and our mistakes, even if that puts us out of business. One goal of ours is to change the way the banks operate, to go beyond their superficial CSR statements. How can they talk about CSR when they did the social damage they did when we, not them, are all paying for it today and will be for a long time to come. We want to change the market as much as help the good causes.
You’ve got a fascinating model Peter, especially how you facilitate charitable giving by consumers and retailers at almost no additional cost. Many others initiatives allow consumers to make a conscious decision to ‘give’ in addition to the price of a product but here there is no choice. Is it integrated giving or an ethical stealth donation (if that’s not an oxymoron)?
I did think about calling it ‘donanthropy’ but not really thought about it. We just want to provide a high quality service for purchasing consumer and our commercial customers whilst redirecting the profits the bank want to give as bonuses and direct them to social and environmental issues.
I know you’re a very creative man Mr King, what’s next?
That would be telling, but we think our model and ethos is easily transferable across vertical and horizontal lines. One approach maybe to challenge all exploited markets, who knows maybe an ethical estate agency!?
Thanks Peter. Good luck and keep us up to date with your journey.
Peter’s voyage isn’t going to be easy. It never is for any small business. I wonder how long the banks will take to sit up and notice that current niche players like Ethecol and others can genuinely compete in a mainstream market before they really change?
What do you think about Ethecol? A serious contender or just another good idea that won’t survive?
For more information about Ethecol:
If you know anybody that deserves to be the next interviewee send me an email.