This paper explains the continuing success of European cooperative banks through evolving comparative advantages. It points out that a cooperative is built around an intergenerational endowment without final owners, which creates particular governance challenges. Risks include the use of the endowment for purposes other than members' best interest, such as empire-building, and attempts at appropriation. The risk of empire-building is reinforced by mechanisms that foster capital accumulation and asymmetric opportunities for consolidation. The paper concludes that some form of independent external oversight of corporate governance is warranted and that cooperatives need mechanisms enabling them to better manage their capital.
The bulk of corporate governance theory examines the agency problems that arise from two extreme ownership structures: 100 percent small shareholders or one large, controlling owner combined with small shareholders. In this paper, we question the empirical validity of this dichotomy. In fact, one-third of publicly listed firms in Europe have multiple large owners, and the market value of firms with multiple blockholders differs from firms with a single large owner and from widely-held firms. Moreover, the relationship between corporate valuations and the distribution of cash-flow rights across multiple large owners is consistent with the predictions of recent theoretical models.
Agency problems within the firm are a significant hindrance to efficiency. We propose trust between coworkers as a superior alternative to the standard tools used to mitigate agency problems: increased monitoring and incentive-based pay. We show how trust induces employees to work harder, relative to those at firms that use the standard tools. In addition, we show that employees at trusting firms have higher job satisfaction, and that these firms enjoy lower labor cost and higher profits. Finally, we show how trust may also be easier to use within the firm than the standard agency-mitigation tools.