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17 November 20148 Comments by Jon M

The Co-operative Mobile interview (part 1)

cooperative mobile

The Co-operative Mobile is a MVNO that’s part of The Phone Co-op. Across the whole company they have over 10,000 members and made revenues of over £10 million.

The mobile division is just a part of the whole group but it also operates under the Rochdale Principles which require payment of a yearly dividend that is proportional to each member’s spend. Last year, this came to 2.5%. They also offer great UK coverage through EE.

Like many co-ops, they do loads of good and last year they were Accredited as a Living Wage Employer by the Living Wage Foundation. They also sell mobile phones alongside their 30 day rolling contracts and they recently because the exclusive UK stockist of Fairphone’s great dual-SIM FPU1 “ethical” smartphones.

We had a chat to ask them a few questions about the mobile network and learn a bit more:

You started with mobile way back in 2010 – can you explain a little more about the genesis of the company as well as the management team and their background?

We were founded in 1998. Originally, we provided landline calls at lower rates than the competition. Since then, we have added broadband, line rental and then mobile in 2010. We have traded profitably every year since our foundation, with the exception of 2005-2006, which was affected by our rescue of an internet co-operative in Manchester, which we incorporated into our business.

Our decision to expand into mobile services was taken in response to demand from our customers and members and to market trends affecting landline revenues and margins experienced during the 2000s. We started with post-paid services in 2010, expanding into Pay As You Go in 2014. This move into mobile has broadened our appeal and resulted in increased revenues and turnover. Last financial year, we made £555,000 profit before distributions.

One problem we have with your question is that we are not a company, we are a consumer co-operative. This means that we are owned and ultimately controlled by our customers who choose to become members. As we are owned my our members we aren’t focussed on putting money into the pockets of external shareholders. A customer becomes a member by investing between £1 and £100,000 into our co-operative. Of our 27,000 customers, over 10,000 have chosen to become members, investing £4,650,000 into our business (as of 28th Feb 2014).

In return, they receive interest on their investment (currently 2%) and a share of any profit. Last year the dividend paid was 2.5% of the members’ annual pre-VAT expenditure with us. Last but not least, our members benefit from having a say in the way that their business is run and how the profits and cash reserves are invested.

Our management team is experienced and balanced. You can see details of their experience on LinkedIn and our Chief Executive is Vivian Woodell, our Head of Operations is Craig Lumsden, our Chief Financial Officer is Lisa Logan while Fiona Ravenscroft is our current Head of Products.

Good point and thanks for correcting us! What does being a co-operative mean to you personally and why do you think it’s important?

Co-operation is embedded in the DNA of our business. We are a consumer co-operative that exists to serve its members, and inspire others with an alternative, better model for business and the economy.

This means that we operate always only with the support of our membership. Our aims and beliefs are not the same as our corporate competitors.

We encourage our customers to think about what they really need and not to consume products for the sake of consuming products! This philosophy resonates with our customers and members and means that our churn rate is lower than the competition. Our members want us to do good with their money, while taking care to offer them the service at the best possible price.

As well as being a co-operative, we are a social enterprise and were recognised as “social enterprise of the year” in 2008. A social enterprise is an organisation that has strong social aims and uses a business model to achieve those social aims, reinvesting all or the majority of its profits to further and support those aims, rather than creating private wealth.

Could you describe the brand in three words?

Co-operative, ethical, competitive.

Makes sense. Now, the MVNO market is incredibly saturated and competitive these days and customers only seem to care about the bottom line – what’s your USP and what would you say to convince someone to join?

I would not agree that customers only care about the bottom line; based on an online survey of our Pay As You Go customers that we conducted just recently, 6 months after launching, we have a 91% customer satisfaction rate with 89% saying they would recommend the service to a friend. Our fair pricing is the number one reason cited for customer satisfaction and next to our great rates our co-operative business model is the primary reason our customers mentioned for choosing us. Note also that according to Ethical Consumer Magazine’s statistics the ethical share of the retail market is around 5% which is still a lot of customers for an MVNO.

I would say that Our Pay As You Go are competitive rates matching the other supermarket tariffs together with honest pricing and excellent customer service. We explain our proposition clearly, people understand what we’re doing and come to us because they want not only competitive pricing but care where they spend their money.

We are a social enterprise and a Living Wage employer. As of October 2013, we had invested £234,000 of our profits in the Co-operative & Social Economy Development Fund, of which £146,500 has so far been invested into ventures such as solar and wind power as well as community pubs and community-owned football clubs. In addition, we have invested more than £622k in solar panels.

Since the business started we have been running affinity schemes; charities, non-profit and co-operative organisations can raise money by promoting our service to their members and supporters and earn a commission based on their members’ spend with us. Last year (up to August 2013), we paid over £59k to partners such as The Soil Association and The Big Issue.

Our ethical reputation has meant that we were engaged as the sole UK stockist of Fairphone, a smartphone which puts social values first.

So there you go… That’s it for part 1 of our interview. We hope you found it as interesting as we did. And if you have any questions about some of the issues and products covered in this discussion, please let us know in the comments below…

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8 Responses to “The Co-operative Mobile interview (part 1)”

  1. KE 9 December 2014 at 14:21 Permalink

    Thanks, Henry and, especially, Stuart, as it is always more reassuring to hear the experiences of actual customers.

    I was looking for true pay-as-you-go, not a bundle with expiring minutes. Some months, I may call/text a lot, others practically nothing. Prepaid bundles with expiring minutes (if you don’t use it, you lose it) is like a monthly contract without the phone.

    I appreciate the rounding up to the second difference, but from experience, I know I will lose a LOT more money on the unused bundle aspect.

    Henry, why aren’t the PAYG rates featured on the main Web page, along with Monthly Bundles and PAYU? The only link is a strange one in the header section that makes it look as if PAYG is from a different company.

    I’m afraid this isn’t for me. While I appreciate the ethos of The Co-operative, I just want a basic affordable pay-as-you-go that works and charges me as little as possible for what I use, when I need to use it, no more. I don’t even need data.

    Sorry, not for me.

  2. Henry Richardson 26 November 2014 at 17:27 Permalink

    Dear Sir/Madam,
    Thanks for your e-mail. If you make a lot of calls,the best way to keep costs down would be to take out a 30 day “Pay As You Go” bundle. These can be seen at
    The minimum term for these bundles is 30 days.
    Voicemail is part of the minutes bundle or, if on PAYG it’s 4p/min and on PAYU, it’s 7p/min.
    I hope that this answers your questions. Please do not hesitate to call us if you need further information. Kind Regards Henry Richardson

  3. KE 26 November 2014 at 13:29 Permalink

    Thanks, Mr. Richardson.

    The links on your website took me to pay-as-you-USE. I couldn’t even find the pay-as-you-GO product.

    So, for the most part, pay-as-you-GO is 8p/4p for calls/texts (until greater take-up in the market of your offering). If you make a LOT of calls to landlines, you might be better off on the hybrid (rental/PAYG) ‘pay-as-you-USE’ offer.

    Are there minimum durations, i.e. months before you can cancel, on your pay-as-you-USE ‘contract’?

    And voice mail is considered what? Free of charge service, call to a Co-operative landline, call to a Co-operative mobile, call to another landline, …? This is often where the larger companies sting users, and presumably MVNOs, on rates.

    • Stuart 29 November 2014 at 16:12 Permalink

      Hi, KE. I’m a phone co-op customer (and member). If you haven’t had your points answered yet –
      The links from Henry should have worked. gets you to the Pay As You Go information, which is also from the “Pay As You Go” link on the menu banner from the homepage

      The price list shows that voicemail is clearly 4p per minute.

      You can also buy add-on bundles, such as 250 minutes and 30 texts for £5, or 1000 mins and 3000 texts for £12.50, valid for 30 days Full bundle options are at Active minute bundles include voicemail calls.

      A big point of difference is minimum call fee – in the most part is is only 1p per call – charged by the second, rounded to the nearest penny. Not a minimum of a minute or rounded up to the next minute. Most have a minimum charge of 1 minute for all calls.

      Hope that’s useful.

  4. Henry Richardson 24 November 2014 at 13:02 Permalink

    Pay As You Use –
    There are two tariffs on this, both of which have a £2 monthly charge.
    Tariff 1- 4p/min to landlines and 11.5p/min to mobiles and 7p per text
    Tariff 2- 7p/min to landlines and 7p/min to mobiles and 7p per text
    There are also mobile minutes/texts/data bundles with phones included as part of the contract, which can be seen here.
    If you had any further questions or queies, please do not hesitate to contact us on 01608 434040 or by e-mail to
    Thanks and once again, sorry if our website was not clear. Henry Richardson

  5. KE 20 November 2014 at 12:37 Permalink

    I was initially intrigued by this company, given its ethical principles–I’m tired of being ‘done over’ by mobile phone companies. It also popped up quite highly in your comparison chart on the three things that mattered most to me (outside of principles): cost for calls, cost for SMS texts, and cost for voice mail calls. I am unfortunately on a restricted budget.

    However, when I went to check Co-operative Mobile Phone’s actual rates on THEIR Website, I was surprised to see a £2 “monthly line rental” and a very different set of rates. Calls were 4p-11.5p per minute depending on your “pay-as-you-use” option (no top-ups, so direct debit mandatory presumably) and what you were calling (landline or mobile). Text messages were 7p per page, not 4p as you show. And voice mail calls were now 7p per minute, not 4p as you show.

    I do hope you ask about these aspects in your Part 2 Interview, and why the rate increases, so it doesn’t come across as not just another marketing-controlled puff-piece. I (want to) have more respect for you than that.

    Any wonder I haven’t been able to figure out to where to switch!

    • Henry Richardson 24 November 2014 at 12:15 Permalink

      Dear Sir/Madam,

      My name is Henry Richardson and I work for the Co-operative Mobile on the Pay As You Go mobile service.

      I am sorry if you found the information on our website confusing. We do have two services which are quite similar. I will explain each in turn:
      1. Pay As You Go. Details of prices can be seen at There is no “monthly line rental” on this and the rates are as follows
      Local and national numbers 8p per minute
      Co-operative mobile numbers 4p per minute
      Other mobile numbers 8p per minute
      Texts to Co-operative mobiles 2p
      Texts to other mobiles 4p

      2. Pay As You Use

    • Mobile Network Comparison 25 November 2014 at 23:42 Permalink

      Did you manage to sort this out yet?

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