I noticed a few friends were upset when someone posted an article from CNNMoney.com about a debit card spending limit as a solution to banks loosing money on interchange fees. It occurred to me that while anger is the tool often used for igniting action, changing something, whether it be your own habits, or those of a corporation, tends to happen more fluidly when anger isn’t involved and when people can make informed choices, rather than feeling boxed into a single choice.
So here we find ourselves wondering, which banks ARE local? To where? Which of those give back to the community or practice sustainability? And which national banks are relatively small and socially responsible?
Green America has a great article, though it’s from 2008, that talks about different big banks and what projects they fund:
- Bank of America has funded environmentally devastating mining in the Appalachias.
- Citigroup, Morgan Stanley (Discover Card) and Merrill Lynch funded new coal-fired power plants in Texas.
- Canadian banks including BMO, CIBC, RBC, Scotiabank and Toronto-Dominion fund oil, gas and forest clear-cutting.
- Citigroup, Merill Lynch and Morgan Stanley funded the Three Gorges Dam which is considered on of Chian’s most environmentally damaging projects, and “…Sets records for number of people displaced (more than 1.2 million), number of cities and towns flooded (13 cities, 140 towns, 1,350 villages), and length of reservoir (more than 600 kilometers). 
A recent article by Marina Shifrin from MyBankTracker.com tells us that Bank of America, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo all are playing the green game and announcing they will no longer support the environmentally damaging causes they’ve supported in the past. While I believe this to be true, I am also a skeptic and believe that big business is first and foremost concerned with making money, otherwise, it wouldn’t be a business.
Banks Doing Good:
New Resource Bank out of San Francisco, “Planet smart banking [that]…works for people, planet and profit in everything we do.” New Resource Bank has, “LEED Gold-rated headquarters, ongoing initiatives to reduce our resource consumption, community contributions and programs that educate and engage customers.” They also have an entire page called, “how we’re sustainable“, and a blog touting the sustainable businesses they’ve helped support. They are located in San Francisco and that is currently their only branch, but they do have a reimbursement policy for ATM withdrawals up to five per month, domestically and internationally.
BNP Paribas, which calls itself, “The Bank for a Changing World”, has well-marked corporate responsibility and sustainable development pages. They are in the process of buidling, “a new Corporate Philanthropy program whose aim will be to support research projects on climate change.” They have a blog, “for employess, partners and websurfers to share goodwill initiatives.” They are the parent corporation of First Hawaiian Bank and Bank of the West. “Founded in 1874, San Francisco-headquartered Bank of the West is one of the largest banks based in the West and among the largest commercial banks in the U.S. Bank of the West is the nation’s third largest agricultural lender and the number one indirect financing lender to nearly 4,000 auto and RV/marine dealers throughout the U.S.” I’m not sure how I feel about those two things – I need to find out if by agricultural lender, they mean Monsanto, though with the rest of their platform, I’m guessing not. Even so, I’ve got a call in to my local branch to find out.
People’s United Bank. Primarily an east-coast bank, I typed in my zip code here in California and could have continued to open an account from here. People’s seems to focus on local humanitarian causes focusing on children, art in schools, children with disabilities and homeless shelters, donating significant amounts each year to various institutions.
If none of these banks appeals to you, or has service in your area, the best way to know where you’re putting your money is to research your local banks and call them up or go in and talk to them about where they’re investing your money. Be sure and know who owns the banks you might think are local. For instance, out here on the Peninsula, I thought that First Republic was a small, privately owned bank. Not so, they were owned by Merill Lynch. And if, like me, you don’t read financial news when you live outside of the country, you might not know that in 2008 Bank of America acquired Merill Lynch.
I happened to luck out and open my first US checking account in a decade at Bank of the West, though my choice was based purely on the fact that I opened up my very first checking account there when I was 12. It’s good to know there are other options out there, and if the interest of Big Banking in sustainability maneuvers is any indication, there will be more socially and environmentally responsible banks from which to choose in the not-to-distant future.
Headline image Image © iChaz on Flickr