New Year’s Resolution – Break Up with Your Bank

It’s your money.

Is this the year that you make a New Year’s resolution to stop funding the climate crisis through your bank and then actually do it? It is for me.

In the interest of full transparency, I got a head start on my 2020 New Year’s resolution because I have already started the process of breaking up with my bank. They just don’t know it yet.

Technically, it is not just my bank because my spouse and I have joint accounts. Fortunately, my spouse is amenable to changing banks.

Yes, I am one of those people who enjoy making and accomplishing a New Year’s resolution. Most years I write a New Year’s resolution post in hopes of luring more readers into the process. Completing something you set out to do can make you feel empowered.

One year I wrote about green investing and another year I wrote about restarting a previous resolution. Last year my New Year’s resolution was to research and write about the environmental impact of sugar and determine if I wanted to do anything about my own sugar intake (I did).

This year my New Year’s resolution is to sever all ties with our current bank and put our money in a credit union where it can benefit our local community.

In this post, we will take a brief look at how “too big to fail” banks are funding the climate crisis and I will share my banking transition experience so far. Admittedly the process has not been hassle-free but I believe ditching our old bank will be worth it in the long run.

Is Your Bank Funding the Climate Crisis?

A bank is supposed to be a safe place where you deposit your paycheck so you can access your money 24/7/365 to fund your life. Banks offer loans so that you can buy a car or house, pay for things with a credit card, or run your business. Savings accounts and certificates of deposits enable to you make a bit of interest on the money you set aside for the future.

Banks provide valuable and essential services, right? Yes, they do.

However, there is a dark side, too.

What came to mind when you read that sentence? Did you think about the 2008 financial crisis and how it impacted you personally? Were you reminded of news reports about your bank engaging in unethical and perhaps even criminal behavior? Did your student loan balance flash before your eyes?

If offshore oil drilling platforms, natural gas pipelines, and coal mines did not immediately come to mind, then you are probably in the majority. A few years ago, these images would not have popped into my mind either. But now they do.

By the Numbers Big Bank Fossil Fuel Financing Infographic
Source – Rainforest Action Network. Click here to read the report (it is interesting and disturbing).

Keeping our money “safe” in a bank that is funding the climate crisis and endangering our children does not make sense to me. So, I decided to do something about it.

Bank Transition Game Plan

I am a planful kind of gal so I did some research and planning before we began our bank changeover. If you are interested, click here for a checklist that may help you with your own bank transition. Below are some of the major steps.

Think It Through

I take banking seriously and I am not advocating that you or anyone else change banks unless you want to and doing so fits in your life. I am sharing what we are doing to provide an example. Where you put your money is of course completely up to you. If you have joint accounts with one or more people, you need to get their buy-in upfront.

My unease with our bank began with learning about their unscrupulous business practices which we won’t go into here. I wanted to move to another bank but our financial life was heavily entangled with our current bank. So I did what anyone might do when faced with a daunting task, I did nothing.

What made me finally decide to spearhead our bank transition project?

Believe it or not, it was realizing that our money could be helping people and businesses in our own community if we moved it to a regional bank or credit union.

Do Your Homework

Do some research before you rush to open an account at the bank across the street from where you work or the credit union next to your grocery market.

Research activities include asking friends or coworkers where they bank, looking up financial institutions online and checking out their websites, and talking with the new account representatives for your top candidates.

We had decided we wanted to put our money in a regional bank or credit union so that is where I focused my online research. I narrowed it down to a few financial institutions and then I visited their branches to talk with the people in new accounts. I asked them about their services, fees, ATM network, who they loan money to, and how they support the local community.

My spouse agreed to go with the credit union that I felt would best meet our needs. One of the things I like about credit unions is that they are nonprofits owned by their members so there are no shareholders looking to make money off of using our money.

Get Started
Coffee Cup, Pen, Piece of Paper with Begin Saying on Wood Table Top
Photo – iStock/marekuliasz.

The time required to set up new accounts will be somewhat proportional to how many accounts you have at your old bank and how many new accounts you want to set up. If you have a credit card account and/or use online bill pay, the overall process will be more complex.

At our old bank, we have checking, money market, and savings accounts. We also have a Visa credit card account and I use online bill pay almost exclusively to pay bills and transfer money. Most of our bills are available directly through the online bill pay portal so unraveling this was one of the reasons I had delayed changing banks.

To get started we went to the credit union’s main branch and met with a member services representative.

We had filled out a small stack of forms at home. At the credit union, the member services rep asked a few more questions and then entered all the information into the credit union system while we waited. The rep was friendly and nice but this process was still mind-numbingly boring and more time consuming than I had anticipated.

We paid $5 to become members of the credit union and opened a share account (savings) and a checking account with minimal amounts.

I selected the most basic and inexpensive checks. Unfortunately, when the checks came in the mail, our name was spelled wrong. So we had to go back and repeat some of the previous steps. The credit union sent replacement checks at no charge.

Our new ATM/debit cards came in the mail but activating them required speaking with a member services rep at the call center.

Go at Your Own Pace

Once you have set up an account(s) with your new financial institution, you can decide whether you want to go close out your old account(s) immediately or do it in multiple steps.

I decided to take a phased approach for several reasons.

  • My spouse just turned in a direct deposit change form so I am waiting for the first paycheck to arrive in our checking account at the credit union.
  • Applying for a new Visa card is a separate process that we have not done yet.
  • Stopping online bill pay at the old bank and starting it at the credit union needs to be done carefully because I do not want to end up with unpaid bills or late fees. So far I have set up an online account.

Will it take me a month or several months to complete all the tasks on my checklist? I do not know but I am looking forward to the day I can walk into our old bank, close all of our accounts, and walk out with a cashier’s check. I also intend to send a letter to the CEO of the bank explaining why we are no longer customers.

Birdlike Links Flying to Freedom Through Hole in Chain Link Fence
Photo – iStock/Eoneren.

So what do you think? Are you ready to break up with your bank? If you are, thank you. Soon you will no longer be part of the climate crisis funding machine. My children, your children, and everyone else’s children are relying on us to do whatever is necessary to keep Earth beautiful and habitable now and in the future.

If you do not want to change banks or are not ready to do it yet, that is okay. Check out the resources section below for other New Year’s resolution ideas or come up with your own.

Happy New Year!

Featured Image at Top: A tiny black oil drum sits on top of a bank credit card – photo credit iStock/porcorex.

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Investing for a Better World

There is more to investment returns than money.

Imagine what we could accomplish if each one of us invested even a small amount of money towards making the world a better place to live now and in the future.

Before we get started, I want to be clear that I am not suggesting that you invest any amount of money in any particular way. It is your money so you are the person best equipped to determine if and how you want to invest it.

My goal for this post is to you encourage you to think about your own investing philosophy and to evaluate whether it aligns with your values and the world in which you want to live.

Until the last ten years or so, I would say my investment focus was on growing my money (return) and trying to avoid losing it (risk). I am not saying this is a bad thing, but it is a rather narrow way of looking at financial investments.

I cannot pinpoint any particular event or even a year when my view of what constitutes an investment began expanding but I think it co-evolved with my desire to live more lightly on Earth.

For instance, in 2013, my spouse and I invested in a rooftop solar panel system for our home. Mostly we wanted to help build renewable energy capacity in our community; however, the free electricity down the road was also an enticement.

We joined the SLO Natural Foods Co-op in 2014 because we wanted to buy and eat delicious organic food and support local and regional farmers and food businesses.

After talking about it for years, in 2015, my spouse and I finally rolled our IRAs out of traditional bond and equity mutual funds into fossil fuel-free socially responsible investments. In this case, our goal was to invest in companies and organizations that are screened for environmental, social, and governance performance as well as risk and return criteria.

Last year, we began looking for a small investment opportunity where we live in San Luis Obispo County, CA. Two weeks ago, this quest landed us in an all day Saturday workshop entitled Align Your Financial Portfolio with Your Values hosted by Slow Money San Luis Obispo.

That day I realized something that I think has been percolating in the back of mind for some time. There is an investment space between charitable giving and traditional investing.

Financial people refer to this as impact and/or regenerative investing. I like to think of it as making-the-world-a-better-place investing.

Before we talk about the workshop and regenerative investing, it will probably be helpful for you to have a bit of background about the Slow Money movement.

Slow Money Movement

The Slow Money movement is led by the nonprofit Slow Money Institute whose mission is catalyzing the flow of capital to local food systems, connecting investors to the places where they live and promoting new principles of fiduciary responsibility that “bring money back down to earth.”

They accomplish this through a variety of approaches including public meetings, on-farm events, pitch fests, peer-to-peer loans, investment clubs and, most recently, nonprofit clubs making 0% loans.

Slow Money SLO Farm to Buyer Mixer Event Sign

Slow Money groups are independent organizations that adhere to Slow Money principles and facilitate investments and loans within their community and region.

I met Slow Money San Luis Obispo founder, Jeff Wade, at a Central Coast Bioneers conference last November and signed up for the email newsletter list. When the workshop announcement landed in my email inbox, I knew I wanted to go so I talked my spouse into attending and signed us up.

Values-Based Investment Workshop

Marco Vangelisti

Our instructor for the day was Marco Vangelisti, a founding member of the Slow Money movement. For a mathematics whiz and former investment manager, he was a surprisingly down to earth and humorous speaker and kept me engaged throughout the day.

Some of the things we learned during the workshop included how in traditional investing a tree only has value once it becomes lumber, how banks create money using accounting entries, and how corporation stock prices are inflated because they benefit from free ecosystem services provided by Mother Nature.

Marco gave us a crash course in portfolio management and due diligence. He explained regenerative investing and gave us examples. We also talked about direct investing, which is where you make an investment directly with an entrepreneur or business.

Investment Compass

Just before lunch, Marco asked us to determine our personal investment compass. He handed out pieces of flip chart paper and colored markers. Using my limited artistic skills, I drew my investment lens (see featured image at top), which are things I consider now when making an investment.

The SLO Natural Foods Co-op prepared a delicious lunch for us and Jeff provided reusable coffee mugs, napkins, and tableware in the interest of making the workshop a low impact event.

Regenerative Investing

The word regenerate means reborn, renewed, restored, reformed, and reestablished. Regenerative systems keep going indefinitely.

When you make a regenerative investment, you are purposefully investing with the intention of generating a positive social and environmental impact.

The main return is not financial. It is things like bringing a grocery market to an inner city food desert, helping a young organic farmer obtain access to farmland, or enabling a school to install solar panels over their parking lot.

Regenerative investing is democratizing investing because it enables people to make small investments (as little as $25) or large ones and gives a wider range of entrepreneurs and businesses access to financial capital.

You might get your money back. You might get your money back with a small amount of interest. You might not get your money back at all. This is true for other kinds of investments, too.

As we were wrapping up the final Q&A session of the workshop, Marco asked each one of us to tell the group one thing that we learned or got out of the workshop.

Colorful Handprints Surrounding Earth
Shutterstock/Holmes Su

The idea that stuck in my mind is that when you make regenerative investments you are investing in “livable future insurance” for you, your children, and people of the future.

I hope reading this post challenged your view of what constitutes an investment return and inspires you to create your own personal investment compass.

Featured Image at Top: This is my investment lens drawing from the workshop.

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