The bank is rooted in the ideas of Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen, the founder of the cooperative movement of credit unions, who in 1864 created the first farmers' bank in Germany. Being a countryside mayor he was confronted with the abject poverty of the farmers and their families. He tried to alleviate this need through charitable aid, but realised that self-reliance had more potential in the long run, and thus converted his charitable foundation into a farmers' bank in 1864. In doing so he created the Darlehnskassen-Verein, which collected the savings of countryside dwellers and provided enterprising farmers with loans. The first was formed as a cooperation of 6 local banks and the latter as a cooperation of 22 local banks. These two existed side by side for three-quarters of a century despite their obvious similarities. The reasons for this owed in part to legal disagreements. The most important difference, however, was cultural. The Eindhoven-based Boerenleenbank had a decidedly Catholic signature while the Raiffeisen-Bank had a Protestant background. In the past the Netherlands underwent a process of pillarisation, which in practice meant that members of different religious congregations and political movements essentially lived side by side, without contact between the two. The religious backgrounds found their way to their organisational structures, as well. The Eindhoven organisation stressed a highly centralized structure, while the Utrecht organisation promoted local autonomy.
The Rabobank Group consists of a network of local banks, Rabobank Nederland and several daughter organisations. Formally the local Rabobanks are the mother organisation of Rabobank Nederland, their central organisation. The local banks are facilitated by Rabobank Nederland to serve their customers and not the other way around as is often the case with traditional banking organisations. Employees of the group do not routinely speak of a headquarters but prefer to speak of Rabobank Nederland, which is their daughter organisation. The central organisation does occasionally overrule the autonomy of the local bank organisations. In accordance with Dutch regulations in the field of credit and financial services Rabobank Nederland oversees that the local banks maintain a required level of prudence and professionalism while selling financial products. Rabobank is traditionally a farmers' bank and it still holds an 85% to 90% market share in the agrarian sector in the Netherlands. Throughout the years, the company has also started targeting small and medium-sized companies. By the mid 1970s the market share in this sector reached some 30% and currently amounts to approximately 40%. In 1987, an important milestone was reached; the total outstanding loans in sectors other than agriculture exceeded those in the agricultural sector for the first time. By 2005 the agricultural credits amounted to some 8% of total outstanding credit. Rabobank also holds some 40% of the total outstanding sums on Dutch savings accounts and they account for approximately 30% of all private consumer mortgages in the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, Rabobank is the third-largest retail bank by market share, and second largest by number of current accounts at 30%. ING Group is the largest with 40% of current accounts, followed by Rabobank (30%), ABN AMRO (20%), and others (10%).
Today, Rabobank is a Dutch multinational banking and financial services company headquartered in Utrecht, Netherlands. It is a global leader in food and agriculture financing and sustainability-oriented banking. The group comprises 129 independent local Dutch Rabobanks, a central organisation (Rabobank Nederland), and a large number of specialized international offices and subsidiaries. Food and agribusiness constitute the primary international focus of the Rabobank Group. Rabobank is the second-largest bank in the Netherlands in terms of total assets