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.
By Melissa Breyer, Senior Editor, Care2