Co-operative banks are widely seen as sustainable alternatives to profit-driven banking. However, while most banks struggle to meet the stringent capital requirements of regulators, co-operative banks are in particular need of cautious capital-related decisions given their little ability to accommodate profit-driven equity investors. In fact, co-operative banks’ single greatest source of capital is their annual surplus.This paper first highlights that capital protection rules related to Hungarian co-operative banks are more liberal than those of other European co-operatives. This is followed by an analysis of Hungarian co-operative banks’ decisions on the distribution of annual surplus among their members. In doing so, the annual reports of 99 co-operative banks representing 73% of all Hungarian co-operatives are used, complemented with confidential data on the ownership structure of each co-operative.The study shows that a co-operative with a low number of members and a high amount of average subscribed capital per member is likely to distribute high dividends. This phenomenon is explained by the different nature of co-operatives according to the number of members. This result not only sends an alarming message to policy makers in Hungary and possibly elsewhere, but also contributes to the peculiarities of co-operative corporate governance.
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