GLS Bank: responsibility instead of profit maximization

Bochum – Anyone who stands in front of the head office of the GLS Bank in Bochum immediately realizes that he is dealing with a slightly different loan. Obviously, on the outer facade, there is the warning: “Make money to your God, and it will plague you like the devil.” A quote from the British writer Henry Fielding.


Picture: Installation of solar panels 

Even Thomas Jorberg, the head of the financial institution, has a for a banker unusually distant relationship to the vile mammon. Money is not so important to him, “says the 53-year-old manager. “Money is not an end in itself, the goal of economic activity can only be to meet people’s needs.”

That may sound outlandish in some ears. But this is precisely the attitude that has made the “Gemeinschaftsbank für Borrowing and Giftgiving” Germany’s largest alternative bank. In the past year alone, the balance sheet of the institute specializing in “ethical” investments rose by almost 37 percent to almost two billion euros. In the current year, the bank again expects a plus of 35 percent. “Our ambition is of course that we remain the market leader in Germany in this area,” says Jorberg.

What makes the bank so special is that it only uses the money that customers put into it to fund sustainable projects in the fields of ecology, social affairs and housing. It gives loans to organic farms and promotes renewable energies. It supports free schools and Waldorf kindergartens, but also finances birthing centers and hospice homes as well as facilities for disabled people. And while other banks practice secrecy, the bank publishes every loan on the internet. The goal: transparency.

The success of the bank is to a large extent also the success of Jorberg. He has been a member of the Bank’s Board of Directors since 1993 and of the Management Board since 2003. But his relationship with the unusual financial institution began much earlier – in 1977.

Money is overestimated as motivation

At that time, the high school graduate had come to Bochum to help in the renovation of a kindergarten before starting his studies, because he “always had two right hands”. He found accommodation with the anthroposophist and GLS Bank founder Wilhelm Ernst Barkhoff and became the first apprentice of the “first social-ecological universal bank in the world”, founded only three years earlier. After the banking apprenticeship followed the study of economics. Then Jorberg returned to GLS Bank.

“I think I did not become a banker at another bank, which never aroused me,” says the father of two grown-up children today. He could probably take more money elsewhere, because for a bank manager Jorberg earned comparatively little. For his twelve-hour day, he gets just six times a career starter, he says. His company car is an eight-year-old Audi A6 with 170,000 kilometers on the clock.

But the term “little” is of course relative, the banker emphasizes in the next sentence. “It’s good enough for life.” And what can not be balanced out with money: He can reconcile what he personally strives for with his job.

In return for the job, Jorberg plays basketball once a week. “I also agree that I walk once or twice or cycle, and I’m a passionate sailor,” reveals the banker.

Does money make you happy? “That one can live well, of course, is pleasant, without question,” replies Jorberg. In addition, money gives you the opportunity to shape things. But money is overestimated as motivation. “A salary can, if it’s too low, demotivate, but motivate properly, no, not really, so do not – and I do not believe many others,” he says.



Amelia Smith

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