April 4, 2007

Ethical Banking

photo - Cwmni Gwynt Teg (Fair Wind) in Wales, UK

My 1st post, scary and exciting.
I feel so lucky to have been included in this blog with these great women who have already influenced changes in my own life through their recent posts. But what to write? My current pet topic is eco building, but with April 5th approaching (deadline for ISA's in the UK) my thoughts have been around banking.

For years I prided myself on living ethically, being veggie, eating organic, and caring for the environment etc. Then, in 1995, I found out my bank, my little (so I thought) Scottish bank was financing the arms trade, among other unsavoury things. I was horrified and wanted to switch immediately.

I learned that The Co-operative Bank had responded to customer demand in '92 (yay) and developed an extensive ethical policy. They are now well known for SMILE, their highly acclaimed online banking facility, which helps as they don't have a lot of high street branches. I liked that they were not investing in companies etc. which would harm the environment, make or trade arms, hold 3rd World Debt or support oppressive regimes. This was all great. But could it be better?

Yes it could.
When I went self employed in 1996 I discovered Triodos Bank. They didn't have high street banks for me either, but they had a totally inspiring ethical policy. In their own words 'Triodos Bank only lends to organisations which create real social, environmental and cultural value'. And they mean that. You can see all projects they have loaned to or invested in on their website. Most banks refuse to disclose such details at all.

They began in the Netherlands in 1980 and now also operate in the UK, Belgium and Spain, and have an agent in Germany. One of the nicest things about banking with them is the mail. No more letters encouraging you to get into debt so you can have the latest car, the hottest holiday or the biggest TV. Nope, with Triodos you get updates on who they've helped with lovely profiles and great photo's. It's so inspiring and un-banky, and it gives you the most incredibly good feeling to know your savings are doing something so positive.

As well as a traditional savings accounts they have Charity Saver accounts, so you can direct your savings towards causes that are particularly dear to your heart, like wildlife, human rights, renewable energy or social housing to name a few. At the time I was spending my free time campaigning against GM trails near our local Organic Farm so I opted for an Organic Saver Account. Years later Triodos helped when the farm shop needed rebuilt. That felt good. They've also help local artists with studio space, which I know you crafty types will approve of. Honestly, this bank is GREAT.

We have enormous power to create positive change by where we keep our money, as well as where we spend it. Not all countries have such great examples as Triodos but many have banks similar to the Co-operative bank. And it's not just savings accounts, but also investments, pensions, mortgages and all the other ways we deal with the bigger finances in our lives. It's worth having a search to see what options are available where you live. Through Triodos I even bought shares in a windfarm!

I've added a selection of UK links below to get you started and also some worldwide links. Please feel free to use the comments section to let us all know of other links that you recommend. Oh, and I've not forgotten about alternative currency, just keeping that for another post. Happy saving...

Co-operative Bank
Triodos Bank
The Ecology Building Society

Ethical Investors (Mortgage, Pension & ISA options)
Naturesave (Insurance)

Australia - MECU
Australia - Savings & Loans Credit Union
Australia - Australian Ethical
Belgium - Triodos Bank
Canada - Citizens Bank
Denmark - JAK
France - Institut de Dévelopement de l'Economie Sociale
France - Société Financiere de la NEF
Germany - GLS Bank
Germany - Triodos Bank
Italy - Banca Etica
Netherlands - Triodos Bank
Spain - Triodos Bank
Sweden - JAK
Switzerland - Alternative Bank (nice graphics)
USA - Common Good Bank


Nichola said...

I have an appointment with MECU next week to discuss accounts and home loans.

amisha said...

fantastic post, cally! i am going to check out the common good bank... i've also looked at paxworld, which is not banking as such but for investing in socially responsible funds.

cally said...

way to go girls!

Katherine said...

Wow, I never even thought that there might be another option besides the bigger banks. Thanks for pointing that out.

tracy said...

thanks cally! great post

Camilla said...

Don't forget credit unions! My bank closed my accounts down and I currently can't get credit/banks accounts anywhere. But i've started saving money with my local credit union and I love it! I think they bank with the co-op themselves.

cally said...

Thanks for that link Camilla,
I'd listed an Australian Credit Union but not that UK one.

I hope people will keep adding links here in the comments for more places in their own countries so we get a nice variety of options.

t-da said...

i shamefully admit i hadn't even considered ethical banking, thanks for sharing this info.

ms. pea said...

This is fabulous cally, thank you! I have been pissing and moaning quite a lot about my bank lately... it may be time for a change.

leslie said...

this is a great post on something i hadn't given much thought to before.. i'll be checking out the two australian banks you mentioned this afternoon!

Christoph said...

There is another good alternative Bank in germany: http://umweltbank.de

Thanks for the Postings

Christoph - http://excitinggreen.com

Daggi said...

The main problem is that Triodos don't offer bog-standard banking (i.e. current accounts). Only savings accounts for personal customers.

In Germany (where I'm writing from) Triodos don't even deal with personal customers at all. The co-operative banking sector is a major part of the banking sector here, though only the GLS/Ökobank are explicitly "ethical". The downside are their extremely high banking charges. "Free banking" is almost non-existent in Germany, but the charges the GLS/Ökobank demand are very high indeed, a monthly fee and per transaction charges as well (at least it was like that last time I researched the matter - and as bank charges are increasing across the board, I can't imagine they would be going against the trend). The Ökobank also nearly went bankrupt a few years ago, and there were a number of "questions" over whether money invested with them was adequately insured, as a result it merged with GLS, which is fine, but part of the antrosophical scene around the followers of Rudolf Steiner.

I don't want to use banking facilities provided by those who invest in arms dealers, on the other hand, I'm pretty sceptical when it comes to those who are followers of Steiner....

Daggi said...

And at the co-op bank, I like the list of companies/investors they turned down...

(scroll down)

lisa s said...

cally - nervous? what for? amazing [truly] first post.

i did switch from a major bank long ago - but now that bank got bought out by another. this has inspired me to do more research and find something like the common good closer to home....

cally said...

Lisa - *big smile*

Daggi - yes, the whole current/savings account thing is frustrating. I think that is why the Co-op's SMILE internet banking has done so well here as they have current accounts, credit cards etc. which is why I'd like a combination of both.

Such a shame that the banks in Germany charge so much, I'm not sure if it's the same in other countries, I hope not. In the UK charges seem to be similar to regular banks, but I'm no financial wizard so it's definitely a case of people doing some research and seeing what may work for them in their own countries.

Thanks for your feedback on how things are over there.

julie said...

WOW Cally amazing post!!! Just wish i could find an alternative bank over here!!
Will delve into the issue but very unhopeful...

cruststation said...

Thank you for this very informative post Cally. To bring to attention something that hasn't crossed my mind before is interesting food for thought. How wonderful that so many banks you listed here is helping the environment.

Edukator said...

Wow! Great Post! I've just started found out about ethical banking and this is a great resource. Thanks!

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