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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Resources

On Fire – Book Review

We can thrive not just survive.

If you or someone you love is planning to live on Earth anytime in the future, you should read Naomi Klein’s On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal.

Without ever having read a review about it or at least glancing at the front flap of the book jacket, have you ever grabbed a book off of a bookstore shelf and then walked immediately to the checkout counter and bought it? I will only do this for a very few authors which include Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, and Yvon Chouinard.

That is how I obtained my copy of On Fire.

In just under 300 pages, you will receive a valuable history lesson about the climate crisis and a vision for what we can and need to do to keep Earth habitable for ourselves and those who come after us.

Book Review

Since I had read nothing about On Fire, I did not know what to expect other than it had to do with the climate crisis and the Green New Deal. Having read previous books by Klein I was prepared for a fast-paced, informative, and action provoking book. It is.

On Fire Book Cover

Readers before cracking open On Fire, I suggest you approach reading it with an open and inquisitive mindset. You may find some parts disturbing but you will likely feel uplifted by others.

On Fire consists of essays and public talks that Klein has written and presented over a ten year period from 2010 to 2019.

She covers a lot of ground from the Gulf of Mexico to the Vatican to the Great Barrier Reef. Wide-ranging topics include climate change, capitalism, science, culture, and the Green New Deal. Along the way, you will be exposed to terms like Anglosphere, othering, sacrifice zones, neoliberal economics, and geoengineering.

My copy of On Fire is sporting a bright pink and red ruffle along the page edges where sticky tabs are marking passages that I thought were important or worth reviewing again later. Here are a few examples.

For me, the paragraph below from the “Introduction” pretty much sums up our current situation.

“The past forty years of economic history have been a story of systematically weakening the power of the public sphere, unmaking regulatory bodies, lowering taxes for the wealthy, and selling off essential services to the private sector. All the while, union power has been dramatically eroded and the public has been trained in helplessness: no matter how big the problem, we have been told, it’s best to leave it to the market or billionaire philanthro-capitalists, to get out of the way, to stop trying to fix problems at their root.”

In the chapter entitled “The Leap Years,” Klein describes the Leap Manifesto, a sort of Canadian version of the Green New Deal that she helped write. Page 178 contains a very important message that every environmentalist should heed.

“One thing we were very conscious of when we drafted the Leap Manifesto is that emergencies are vulnerable to abuses of power, and progressives are not immune to this by any means. There is a long and painful history of environmentalists, whether implicitly or explicitly, sending the message that ‘Our cause is so big, and so urgent, and since it encompasses everyone and everything, it should take precedence over everything and everyone else.’ Between the lines: ‘First we’ll save the planet and then we will worry about poverty, police violence, gender discrimination, and racism.’

“The Art of the Green New Deal” chapter near the end of the book discusses the power of art and how it can help us envision the social and ecological transformation we can have if we have the courage to go for it.

The video below co-created by Klein beautifully embodies this idea.

The Bottom Line

When Naomi Klein published her first book about the climate crisis This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate in 2014, she was already an award-winning journalist and bestselling author. She is currently the Senior Correspondent for The Intercept and the Gloria Steinem Endowed Chair in Media, Culture, and Feminist Studies at Rutgers University. Klein is the co-founder of the climate justice organization The Leap.

Many wonderful writers do not have the grasp of language that Klein does. Her writing is clear, understandable, and evocative. She tells it like it is and seems to purposefully say things in a way intended to rile you up, like poking a stick in a hornet’s nest. This is one of the things that make her such a powerful writer. We need people who are willing to say what is really going on and to spur us to action. Klein does that.

I recommend you read On Fire first and then give or loan a copy of the book to someone you know that has not come to grips with the fact that the climate crisis is already here and that we can do something about it.

Featured Image at Top: Sunrise Movement youth activists demanding a Green New Deal during a sit-in outside the office of U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on November 12, 2018 – Photo courtesy of Sunrise Movement.

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