'The Bank of Cancer Research'. What's that all about?

Here’s a thing that caught my eye. The Bank of Cancer Research (BCR). It looks most strange. They want to buy a bank, courtesy of the billionaire philanthropists of The Giving Pledge. I’m not sure where BCR is based – it has no obvious physical address -  but it tweets from Melbourne in Australia. It doesn’t have any country specific vibe, which is why I looked for a clue to its place.

It doesn’t have any names associated with it either, so there’s no bona fides that might help substantiate it. And the domain registrant is anonymous.

So – knock, knock. Who is there?

Who are the ‘we’ mentioned so often? The BCR website is without any identifiable faces. Why ever not? Why not put a face to whoever had your big idea? Their equally faceless YouTube Video manages to do without pictures too. Just the website words reordered in floaty animation, Powerpoint style, rather than as stationery text on a webpage.

The whole looks like a scam. I have, I hasten to add, no idea whether it is a scam or not.

If it is a scam…… I see you…. Mind you, I can’t see how it would work. There’s no request for money.

If it is not a scam, the fact that it looks as if it could be a scam should concern whoever made it, assuming it is exactly what it says it is – a (not yet successful) social media campaign to buy a Bank and make that Bank’s aims ‘charitable’ rather than profit.

It’s not doing terribly well – 7 comments on YouTube and fewer than 1,000 views, [as of 14/11/14] so maybe the faceless, nameless thing is as off putting for others as I find it – though that’s only the first on a list of things which means I won’t be engaging with it.   

Maybe it is some kind of test, of social media? The joining together of a cause with massively high public support – cancer research – with an opposite cause with absolutely no public support or sympathy – banks - that could be a revealing juxtaposition. But who’d want to find out? What would it be a test of?  

The website does feel as if it was born out of a young person’s hopeful and uncomplicated musings about how the world should work, perhaps tempered by a close and personal connection to the cause of cancer research. The billionaire philanthropists of The Giving Pledge aren’t credited with much nous, when nous will have been key to most of them becoming billionaires. The text does read as if asking for some money and claiming a large number of people support the idea means the emotional heft of the idea is considered enough to make it happen.

The unnamed ‘we’ “aim to meet with the signatories to The Giving Pledge as they have the financial capacity and the philanthropic mindset to purchase an established bank an instantly make BCR a reality.”

Instantly is unlikely. They’ll need to be persuaded it is a good idea, then do their due diligence, then agree on action. What about the workers in the Bank they buy? Is it OK to change their terms and conditions so much that they leave? I imagine that as current employees went to work in a bank, most of them probably want to work in a bank, not a social enterprise.

The BCR hopes we will show support on social media by liking their Facebook page, following them on Twitter, watching their videos (dull) and subscribing to their YouTube channel in order to prove the market to the signatories to The Giving Pledge. They believe every view, like, share, follow, re-tweet and comment will represent a future customer of BCR -  except of course it doesn’t. I follow it on Twitter because it look odd and I am currently sceptical, not because I support it.

The BCR believe the more support they get the easier the decision of the billionaire philanthropists in The Giving Pledge will be. I think they'll need rather more than the force of numbers to persuade them. What is the business case? Why cancer research? Why not access to clean water or money for a global commitment to girls’ education as Malala Yousafzai demands? What about infection? Ebola or SARS type epidemics loom and we know antibiotic resistance is a massive threat. Heart and vascular disease kills many more people globally than cancer does. Is this a Western World only bank?

I don’t mean cancer research is a bad cause. I’m just asking why cancer research? That’s part of the context that needs explaining.  

Then occasionally the BCR anti-banker tone seeps through. I’m not exactly pro-banker but not everyone in a bank is a man in a designer suit with a Ferrari and a coke habit. Some will drive Vauxhalls and work on the ‘small business’ desk, giving start-up loans to florists or bakers. Some people who work in banks will be minimum wage cleaners or catering staff. Thus I’m not letting the phrase like ‘More meaningful careers for employees as they will work for a purpose beyond a pay cheque’ pass without comment. Pompous or what?

Some people work to live and don’t consider not working for a purpose beyond the pay cheque means their careers lack meaning. Your excellent life as a Dad may only be possible because of the pay cheque which is why you look that job. Besides, trying to make the people who ‘work to live’ into people who ‘live to work’ in favour of cancer research is daft. And neither is there ‘a type’. Different people do the same thing (accept a pay packet, for example) to enable different ambitions and a wide variety of life choices within the same organisations.  

Then things get even more shaky. I quote “Furthermore, the next time a loved one of theirs is diagnosed with cancer they will be able to take comfort in the fact that every day of their career they have contributed to finding a cure.” But if their loved one is diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or any of the neurological horrors or has a heart attack – what happens then? Those conditions and many others, make up the cause of death 3 out of every 4 people who do NOT die of cancer - what happens then? Swap banks?

“Customers will get more from their banking services as each time they use BCR they are contributing to the funding of cancer research”. But will the banking service be any good? A bank is, primarily, a bank. I’d want them to get that service level right first.

“Scientists and researchers will be able to focus on research as opposed to being distracted by the constant need to secure future funding”. The implication is a tap of money turned on, all the time. Will the Bank fund all projects for all cancer researchers, whoever they are, whatever they ask? I hope not. There won’t be enough money for a start. Even if there was, a lot of poor quality work with useless or no outcomes will ensue, alongside the good stuff. Nope. There will have to be some kind of gatekeeping – an application and assessment process - to secure funds.

I can’t be very encouraging on the likely success of BCR I’m afraid, but if it is an honest effort, the attempt is commendable and eventually they’ll find the right vehicle for their entrepreneurial and social activist zeal.