Updated: Oct 14, 2019
Saying has it that money the root of all evil. I have often felt that this is genuinely the case, with so many of modern society's ills founded, in some form, in money, be it lack of or the corruption that can come from the greed of too much and the unethical ways it is often earned. The environmental crisis appears to be largely due to the requirement of growth in our economy, as we shred our biosphere into oblivion in search of anything with monetary value, to the point that our desperation to save our planet must itself be sold as a financially beneficial endeavour, as only this way can the foundational changes be made to save the planet- economy first, then life itself. This, without doubt, is a confused state of affairs. When faced with such a situation we must make a choice; do we fight to bring down the status quo and create something from scratch, or do we roll with the punches and make changes from the inside, utilising the power of our system for good? I believe the answer is a combination of the two- we must tear down the systems that are horribly destructive for the many yet benefit the few, meanwhile we must nurture and improve the systems that have the potential to benefit all. Capitalism may not be the problem, but to make it work for us and for the planet we must morph its functioning, adjust how we interact with it, with money, with products, with consumption and force the changes we want to see without tearing down all current systems with only vague, idealistic plans to install to replace them.
Can we work within the current system, support the great endeavours that do exist out there, make the changes that must be made to avoid living in a destructive or immoral manner, minimise the harm and pain caused to the living planet. I am grateful for capitalism's highest virtue- it responds to the needs of consumers to provide what we want. This makes life easier, but we must know what we want and this involves thinking beyond the obvious, considering the reasons and outcomes of the persuit and satisfaction of our desires. Surely we want ethical banks, somewhere to store our cash safely without it being secretly invested in businesses and projects that go against everything we believe in.
So what is unethical about banks? Here are a few examples I have come across that made me realise that changing bank accounts had to be one of the first easy wins, a simple change that makes a statement, a catalyst for immediate positive change, all for very little effort for the individual.
· Are you against the environmentally catastrophic Canadian Tar Sand oil extraction? HSBC (my ex-bank), Barclays and RBS are three UK banks that have invested in this endeavour, do their customers know that their money supports this project?
· The payment protection scandal, where banks such as Lloyds mis-sold unnecessary products to customers to make an immoral buck.
· Failure to monitor ultra-rich customers, for example by turning a blind eye to fraudulent activities: In 2012 HSBC received a £1.2million fine for its customers involvement in violent drug cartel activities.
· Barclays have been accused of rigging interest rates, affecting mortgages and student loans.
· Barclays also has a 4.25% stake in BAE Holdings, a British defence company with seriously questionable moral integrity, involved in countless scary lawsuits for dubious, secretive deals.
· NatWest, Barclays and HSBC all invest enormously in the oil and coal industries, not exactly sustainable investments.
Remember the 2008 financial crash? Banks lost our trust (for 5 minutes). It was terrible, no doubt, but the reality of the banking industries naughty ways goes way deeper, into depths darker than most of us would care to imagine and certainly somewhere we would not want to spend time or money! Unfortunately, those banking secrets are funded by our hard-earned cash and therefore a few moments spent considering investing into something less destructive is a wise move. We are shareholders in whatever our banks decide to invest in, this makes us accountable for what they do, participants in what they invest in. If you were carefully selecting a business investment, would you really elect to support a fossil fuel giant over a progressive sustainable energy investment for the same returns? An arms dealer over a regenerative community farm? I am far happier having faith that my bank is trying to support sustainable, ethical practices, particularly as it only took me some research and ten minutes to switch banks and my interest rates have not got worse.
So what is it that makes a bank ethical? They aim to have a positive social and environmental impact, they avoid supporting businesses who participate in unethical practices like child labour, or dodgy arms deals, they tend to choose sustainable energy businesses over fossil fuels and often avoid companies who test on animals.
I will leave the research up to you guys, there are quite a few good options out there. I moved to Triodos, who seemed the best option I could find, and the switch included £40 to spend on a Permaculture website. Do not be scared by their small monthly current account charge, their reasoning behind it made a lot of sense and gave me confidence that they are genuinely trying to make ethical decisions, it is worth reading about. The Cooperative tend to score highly too. For savings, ISA’s and mortgages there are many to choose from, with Charity Bank scoring very well for their ethical savings accounts.
It is an easy win no doubt. I hold no illusions that there is a perfect bank that does no wrong but I feel good knowing that my bank is open and honest with their investments, that they are paving the way toward the version of capitalism that we should be seeing in this world, that we must see to take better care of our planet and ourselves. Moving to an ethical bank is better than not making a move and ignoring any issues of morality, and I believe this is a great place to begin. Moving slowly forward in the right direction, we will someday arrive.