Putting your money where your heart is
by Matt Perry
I was walking down Walthamstow Market the other day.
There was one of those collectors with a cylindrical collection box on the street. He stepped in front of me and shook the box, rattling the coins as a universal request to donate.
“What are you collecting for?” I asked. “We’re raising money to build some new nuclear weapons - can’t be too prepared” the collector responded with a smile. I placed a couple of pounds into the tin and carried on.
As I approached the end of the high street another street collector stopped me. This one wasn’t collecting cash - they were trying to sign people up to give regularly by Direct Debit. They had a very convincing patter about how just £1 per month could mean that more trees in the Amazon rainforest could be cut down, ensuring that they would be lost forever. I signed up right there and then.
Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it (and it didn’t actually happen in case you were wondering). None of us would willingly give to these causes would we? We certainly wouldn’t take cash out of our pockets and hand it over.
Yet here’s the thing… if you do your personal banking with many of the high street brands (current accounts, savings accounts, credit cards, mortgages and insurance) you will be contributing to or at the very least giving your complicit approval to investment in weapons manufacture, deforestation and fossil fuels. Here are some of the facts :
In the 2 years to January 2019, UK high street banks invested a combined £14.4 billion in nuclear weapons development and manufacture (and that’s before you get to the billions of pounds invested into conventional arms manufacturing).
Barclays Bank is the “worst banker of fossil fuels in Europe”. They have provided US$300 million to support a Coal Power Station in Bangladesh which threatens the world’s largest mangrove forest (overall Barclays has some $118 billion of investments in fossil fuel since 2016)
Barclays, Lloyds, Natwest and Santander have all provided financing to companies implicated in illegal deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest.
Barclays, HSBC and Legal & General have all provided financing to the growing private prison sector in the USA. These companies are making profit from the incarceration of criminals where 20% of the population are Black Americans compared to 5% of the overall population. Some of these companies are facing further lawsuits for further profiteering from enforced labour of prisoners for under $1 per hour.
While modern banking is vastly different to the systems of biblical times, there is much in scripture that points us towards ethical banking (banks that are careful about how they invest in businesses). In the Bible as a whole there are 500 passages in the Bible on faith, 500 on prayer but 2,350 on money. Perhaps the overarching driver of our decision making when it comes to money might be the words of Jesus to:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. ‘This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself. (Matthew 22:37b-40).
Allowing this to shape our lives will drive us to the love and service of others, and that includes practicing good stewardship of money and resources. We have to ask ourselves whether the money we have invested (or simply kept safe) is being used to show love in the world or something different.
Fortunately there is something we can do about it. Moving our personal finance to ethical banks ensures that we are “putting our money where our mouth is” but also gives ethical banks greater influence and begins to erode the support of traditional banks and their detrimental investments.
Changing your current account, with all of its standing orders and direct debits seems like a big deal. But with the recently introduced Banking Switch Guarantee it really is quite simple now - your old bank is required by law to support the automatic transition of all of those transactions to your new account.
There are several “best buy” ethical banks to choose from: Triodos Bank, Ecology Building Society, Charity Bank, Kingdom Bank, Reliance Bank. For more information and comparison try ethicalconsumer.org. The latter offer a league table of banks in terms of ethics. Triodos tops the list with 16 out of 20 points. Sadly Tesco Bank, Sainsbury’s Bank, Barclays, HSBY, M&S Money, First Direct, Natwest, TSB, Santander and Halifax all score less than 5 out of 20.
A line from a popular West End musical goes “If you don’t know, now you know!”.
I would add that once you know you can’t then un-know. Why not commit to taking one action to make your banking more ethical? Start with your current account. And when you’ve completed that one, move on to another action.
 All facts taken from Ethical Consumer magazine, Issue 186, Sept/Oct 2020 (see also https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/money-finance)