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How Bad is Your Bank?

How Bad is Your Bank?

In the early days of American bank architecture the main style was neo-classical (think lots of white columns) with the intention of associating the burgeoning banking industry with the solid, democratic ideals of ancient Greece. The main idea was that banks were for the people. Ha! How about supported by the people?

In the past few weeks we have seen Bank of America’s ($45 billion bailout) over-the-top $10 million Super Bowl party, Morgan Stanley’s ($10 billion bailout) lavish weekend conference at a five-star Palm Springs resort, Wells Fargo ($25 billion bailout) whining about canceling the annual all-expenses-paid weekend in Las Vegas for its execs, and Citigroup ($45 billion bailout) getting “tsk tsked” by Obama for planning to purchase a new $50 million private jet.

Isn’t it shameful? And to think, we are only seeing these egregious expenditures now that the banking industry has been in the news so much. This and so much more has been going on for ages, and where do banks make their money? Our money. It makes my skin crawl–it just doesn’t seem all that democratic to me.

I have been banking with the same big bank for the last two decades–and I’ve been wondering if I should end my relationship with them. But where to turn if I do, which banks are better or worse? I guess I’m not the only one with this question on the edge of my noggin, because into my inbox today sailed the Green America (formerly Co-op America) newsletter with “Break up with your bank…” in the subject line. The link leads to their Responsible Shopper page that rates the top eight mega-banks in terms of social and environmental records. Isn’t that awesome?

Somehow I have absent-mindedly thought about banks as simply being money brokers. Obviously they are big business, and are lavishly wasteful, but don’t they just kind of make money on money and move it around a lot? Time to wake up and smell the corruption. According to Green America, here’s the fast-facts dirt:

Environmental and human rights violations are widespread within the banking industry due to unsustainable investments.

Investments in PetroChina, whose proceeds directly fund the Sudanese army and Janjaweed militia which carries out the genocide in Darfur, is perhaps the most egregious of the industry’s current investments.

Banks have also been criticized for profiting from apartheid in South Africa and supporting other abusive regimes.

Additionally, the industry finances development projects that are destructive to environment, such as the construction of coal-powered energy plants and mining in the Amazon River basin.

And that’s just the icing on the cake. Ouch. Although my bank scored well on some important issues, it didn’t rate very well overall. It may be time to start drafting my Dear John letter on a withdrawal slip and see how much I can fit in my piggy bank.

See how your bank rates at the Green America Responsible Shopper: Banking and Financial page.

Read more: Do Good, News & Issues, , , , , ,

By Melissa Breyer, Senior Editor, Care2

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.

10 comments

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12:15AM PST on Dec 1, 2011

thanks for sharing

7:10PM PDT on Mar 14, 2011

Here is a Rainforest Action Network petition to major banks, asking them to stop funding coal, and instead finance more clean energy solutions like wind and solar:

http://act.ran.org/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=3614 .

11:22PM PDT on Mar 13, 2011

Your article didn't list which banks are "good", which banks are "bad", and which banks we should consider. So I will start researching and hope to come up with a resonable solution. Thanks for lighting the fire.

4:59AM PST on Dec 14, 2010

Thanks for the article.

1:46PM PDT on Sep 4, 2010

Why not transfer all your accounts to a local bank? My hometown bank has been in business for over a century, is reliable and friendly, and I am glad to be supporting a local, family business. They offer all the perks of a national bank (refund ATM fees, free checking, etc) but also the warm and fuzzy feeling of a local business.

Gainesville CPA

5:38AM PDT on Aug 5, 2010

I am all against the
credit card machine and banks that charge large fees, so when I chose my bank I chose one with medium interest and low to no fees, I think that this thing reflect the bank greed.

7:01AM PST on Feb 15, 2009

yeah, local banks and credit unions are better. I have my money in a cooperative bank which doesn't use interest, nor for keeping your money neither for taking a loan! It is great, too bad it only exists in Sweden now. But, hey! it just needs some people to start it. There are many people abroad interested in starting their own. Check www.jak.se

12:09PM PST on Feb 13, 2009

Just to clear things up, Wells Fargo's all-expenses-paid weekend in Las Vegas was NOT for execs. It was for a select few Top preformers within the company that well deserved the recognition.

10:23AM PST on Feb 13, 2009

How about a credit union? The only requirement mine has is that you live or work in the our county. They have all the services of a bank without the high fees.

1:40PM PST on Feb 12, 2009

Why not transfer all your accounts to a local bank? My hometown bank has been in business for over a century, is reliable and friendly, and I am glad to be supporting a local, family business. They offer all the perks of a national bank (refund ATM fees, free checking, etc) but also the warm and fuzzy feeling of a local business.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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