October 2006. A mysterious bank suddenly appears on the Belgian market. The bank is proud to invest in the arms industry, oil- and gas, nuclear power, agrochemicals and companies violating their workers' rights. ACE* bank immediately provokes reactions.
After weeks of outrage, enthousiasm and speculations, the belgian ngo -and BankTrack member- Netwerk Vlaanderen reveals to be the mastermind behind this fake bank. The action turns out to be part of the campaign My Money. Clear Conscience?, which protests against controversial investments by commercial banks.
This is the amazing ACE* bank story. You can enjoy the video at www.ace-bank.eu (english)
Brussels, october 2006. A mysterious bank introduces itself on the Belgian market. The bank claims to be the initiative of a major financial group which doesn't want to reveal its identity yet. ACE* bank is a bank with a clear policy: maximum profit, no scruples. Sick of the growing pressure for 'politically correct' investments and sustainability, this young shark fully goes for controversial investments. ACE* bank specialises in investments in the arms industry, oil- and gas, nuclear power, agrochemicals and companies violating their workers' rights. ACE* bank believes firmly in this policy but wants to test the waters: is the customer ready for this straightforward no-nonsense approach? Brussels is chosen as a starting point for a European market research. The first promotion office opens on the 11th of october. A motivated team of salesmen and -women call in passers-by for an interview about their opinion on the ACE* investment portfolios. Some people are shocked by the details they receive about the investments by ACE*, others like its honesty.
Everyone is curious about ACE* bank. The major Belgian newspapers report about the launch of this remarkable newcomer on the market. ACE* bank goes for an agressive media approach. Two days after the opening of the Brussels office, the bank sends out a new press release, boasting 'ACE* bank is the Ryan Air of the Financial World'. The bank promises higher interest rates then any other bank, thanks to its low salaries and its choice for interesting projects like Sakhalin, the Russian oil- and gas exploration by Shell. ACE* bank criticises any bank that gives in to pressure from political groups and promises the clients not to miss great investment opportunities like this. Again, the press reacts amased and with curiosity. This is a daring approach, a new wind in the financial world.
The outrage In the meantime, speculations about who is behind this controversial new bank are rising. Journalists start guessing and start pushing the ACE* bank spokesperson for details. He refuses to name the financial backers, but announces to publish their names shortly. At that point, the rumour about the new bank has reached the Commission of Banks and Insurances (CBFA), the commission that controls all the activities by financial institutions on the belgian market. A CBFA deputy director has been alarmed about ACE* bank, which seems to operate without the necessary licences. He rushes to the trendy ACE* promotion office and bumps into the spokesperson of the bank, who tells him to come back during office hours. After a brief and heated discussion, the CBFA deputy director storms down to the nearest police office to file a complaint. That same evening, CBFA decides to send out press releases about the illegal activities of ACE* bank, warning the world against this obscure new company.
The suspense ACE* bank decides it's time to react. The bank anounces a press conference a couple of days later, promising to reveal its marketstrategy and financial backers. The press goes mad. Journalists don't know what to think about this. Is ACE* real? Is it a commercial stunt by another bank? Is this bank trying to convince people about the opposite of what it promotes? Is there an ngo behind it? The ACE* bank spokespersons telephone starts ringing of the hook. But ACE* bank doesn't put its cards on the table yet. The press has to wait until the press conference. Some journalists decide not to wait. They start to investigate all possible options. Maybe ACE* bank doesn't really exist. What if it's a campaign? The main suspects, Oxfam, Greenpeace, Netwerk Vlaanderen, etc are questioned about their involvement. Nobody knows anything. Newspapers phone the major communications- and PR bureaus, other banks, advertising specialists etc. Nobody knows anything. But the holes in the net are tightening. One journalist discovers that the ACE* bank office is rented by the City of Brussels. He even manages to get hold of the contracts. He discovers that Netwerk Vlaanderen and the City plan an exhibition about 'sustainable investments', later that month. The same journalist phones Netwerk Vlaanderen undercover, claiming he wants to volunteer for this event. Netwerk tells him the project has been cancelled due to lack of resources. This doesn't stop the newspapers from publishing articles which hesitatingly point at Netwerk Vlaanderen as the main suspect. Not surprisingly, as Netwerk Vlaanderen is known for its direct and confrontational actions about banks. But nobody is absolutely sure, so the pressconference is packed.
The repression The Commission of Banks and Insurances finds out about the press conference and decides to take action. Whoever is behind this bank, they have to be stopped! 20 minutes before the press conference starts, a group of plain clothed police officers arrives at the bank, with a clear order to arrest all ACE* bank employees. Some of them have a nose for this kind of danger and manage to escape. They call for reinforcements. A diplomat is sent in to negotiate. After his decisive briefing, the officers start laughing and decide to go and have a beer in the nearest pub.The press conference can go ahead as planned. ACE* bank grabs the opportunity to explain to the journalists that it does not differ fundamentally from other banks. The companies in its investment funds also occur in those of financial groups like AXA, ING, Fortis, KBC and Dexia. Why wouldn't ACE bank be allowed to do the same?
The reveal The spokespersons assistant starts reading out all the messages of support the bank has received by its potential customers, ending with some more obscure messages from people who feel the urge to throw in the windows and come and puke on the ACE* bank carpet (sic). Do the ladies and gentlemen of the press have any more questions? Silence, discomfort and confusion. "In that case, we only want to add one element to your dossier and introduce you to the mastermind behind ACE bank." Finally, the moment of truth! As if from nowhere, two representatives of Netwerk Vlaanderen enter the building.
* ACE bank is not a bank. This is not a hoax. Any resemblance with an existing financial group is purely coincidential. And any other possible dislaimer which keeps banks and their lawyers of our backs. Thank you.