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Nature · Economy

Ecology can only work hand-in-hand with economics!

September 29th, 2017
in:Nature, Economy
by:Frank Odenthal
located in:Germany
tags:Alfred Platow, Ökoworld

Alfred Platow is perhaps Germany's best-known asset manager. He was the first to offer ethical-ecological investment funds of that certain kind. And his funds and pension insurance products are still very successful. Alfred Platow's CV does not correspond to that of a typical banker. Ecology, he says, can only work hand-in-hand with economics. 

FAIRPLANET: Mr. Platow, sitting here now, at the age of 71, as a successful business man, as manager of the perhaps most famous investment fund in Germany, that's something your parents probably would not have dreamed of after all.

ALFRED PLATOW: My parents certainly wished that I would work in the financial business in a broader sense. My mother was a tax consultant, and my father was also familiar with tax issues. They would have liked to see me as an auditor. As a teenager, by the way, I actually earned my pocket money with tax return filings and enjoyed it. But at some point there was a break, the question of why? So I chose training as a state-recognized boarding school teacher (without ever working in that profession later on), and then began to study social work at the University of Duesseldorf in 1976.

Was it there that you realized that you want to get more socially involved?

That was even earlier. I founded the first fully self-managed youth center in Germany in 1973 in Duesseldorf. When the city administration declared that they didn't want to support us, we entered and blocked the city's Youth Welfare Office.

Was that the time when you got involved with Duesseldorf's squatters community?

I have always seen myself as an undogmatic left, categorically rejecting violence. Artists like Joseph Beuys also belonged to that certain community in Duesseldorf. I never lived in the squattered houses, I was part of the group of organizers, the "alternative social workers", as we called ourselves. The squatters then often asked me to be their negotiator. Once, I climbed on top of a table at the university's canteen and asked the students for assisting us in a protest: We sat down in the middle of a crossroads right in front of the police department blocking all the traffic. The protest turned out to be successful, because I was able to mobilize a massive number of students. At that time, I also supported some social projects as their tax consultant, which was illegal, but is now time-barred.

So you were an anarchist at that time?

Anarchy had nothing to do with it! Instead, it was sort of anti-capitalist calculus. In our opinion, apartments that were not rented at a fair rate were illegal. Because the possession of living space always entails a commitment to the community. Property has its rights as well as its duties.

But then you became a capitalist yourself, one could say: You offered investment funds.

In the beginning, in 1975, my partner, Klaus Odenthal, and I started offering insurances, we founded the 'Collective Insurance Agency Alfred & Klaus', with a garage in Hilden near Duesseldorf as our first office. For social initiatives, such as the self-managed youth center, it was very hard to find an insurer at that time who provided a public liability insurance. Finally, after a long search, we found a co-operative insurance company that was willing to help us. And this insurance company offered us a contract as one of their general agencies; that was in 1977. In 1987 Versiko GmbH was founded and in 1989 the Ökobank. We had a concept, an idea of our very first investment fund, "Ökovision Classic", back in 1989 for the first time. The approval process took a little longer than expected though. On 2 May 1996 the fund was released.

You became the pioneer of an ethical-ecological movement.

We kept asking 'why?'. Why should it not be possible to invest money without feeling guilty about what is happening with it? Arms manufactorers, fast food chains like McDonalds, fossil fuel and nuclear power providers - all companies that harm people and the planet. In our funds, they are categorically excluded, not even a small percentage is allowed. Alcohol is, by the way, not an exclusion criterion, because then we would have to rule out all those biologically sustainable working farms, because they've got alcohol involved during fermentation processes. However, suitable companies are hard to find.

How did the German authorities react when you tried to register your 'Ecovision' fund?

With blockade! “BAKred”, the predecessor organization of “Bafin”, the German financial services regulator, admitted that our first application had been impeccable, but we were still denied admission.

Why?

Off-the-record, we were told that it was the syllable "eco" in the title of the fund; that it would brand all competitors as immoral. But they advised us to register our fund in Luxembourg instead. We did that - my colleague Helga Nissen, my colleague Klaus Odenthal and I – then, and we got the license to Europe-wide distribution immediately. That's why the headquarters of our investment company is located in Luxembourg.

Today, about twenty-one years later, your fund is still considered as successful and reliable. You have got about 55,000 private customers and a yearly surplus of 1.2 million euros, the creditworthiness of Ökoworld is shown as 'very good', and in 2016 you've paid a record dividend to the shareholders of ÖKOWORLD AG. And you have lured imitators into the market. Sustainable investment is booming.

We're very happy that others see us as pioneers and respect us as bellwethers, so to say. It certainly shows that people want to use their money responsibly. Because if we want to save our planet, we need not only an energy revolution, but also a money revolution! If nobody puts his money into dirty technologies, these companies would quickly disappear from the market.

How did your old friends react when you started your business? Did they see you as a deserter or even as a traitor?

No, on the contrary. My old companions they are all supporters, co-owners and customers of our funds and insurances.

Mr Platow, thank you very much for this interview.

Alfred Platow (71) lives and works in Hilden near Düsseldorf. He is married, has three daughters, one son and four grandchildren. Since 1995 he has been Chairman of the Board of Directors of ÖKOWORLD LUX S.A.

Article written by:
Frank Odenthal
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