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!

06/03/20 Update: We have completed breaking up with our bank. Click here to read the letter I sent to the CEO of Wells Fargo.

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

Falter – Book Review

We don’t have to falter.

In his latest book Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? Bill McKibben is asking us to get real, get to work, and to have hope.

As soon as I spotted Falter on the bookshelf at a Barnes & Noble in downtown San Luis Obispo, CA, I grabbed two copies and headed to the checkout counter without even looking at the table of contents or reading the book jacket.

One copy was for me and the other one was destined to become a raffle prize at the SLO Climate Coalition event my spouse and I attended later that evening.

At the time, I was already reading two books in preparation for a post called Environmental Impact of Sugar, so when we got home I put Falter on a bookcase shelf in the living room.

Book Review

A few weeks ago, I took Falter off the shelf to read it.

After reading the book jacket, I thought “Hmm…This seems rather dismal.” Then I flipped to the table of contents and saw that the book begins with a prologue entitled “An Opening Note on Hope.” So, I read that part.

“A writer doesn’t owe a reader hope—the only obligation is honesty—but I want those who pick up this volume to know that its author lives in a state of engagement, not despair. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have bothered writing what follows.”

Okay, now I was willing to dive in.

Falter Book Cover

Readers, in this book you will learn about and explore the climate crisis, genetic engineering, and artificial intelligence.

How do these three topics interconnect? Good question. Read the book.

Here are a few highlights.

Part One: The Size of the Board

This first section will give you a good sense of how the climate crisis is unfolding, not in some distant time, but now. You will also get a synopsis of how we got to this point.

“Climate change has become such a familiar term that we tend to read past it—it’s part of our mental furniture, like urban sprawl or gun violence. So, let’s remember exactly what we’ve been up to, because it should fill us with awe; it’s by far the biggest thing humans have ever done.”

On page 43-45, McKibben quotes parts of a poem by climate activists and poets Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner (Marshall Islands) and Aka Niviana (Greenland). I wanted to read the whole poem so I searched on the Internet and found this video. It is beautiful and heartrending speaking to the very essence of what is at stake.

Part Two: Leverage

Money and power provide leverage. This part of the book puts that maxim into the context of the climate crisis.

“The first thing to say is that current levels of inequality are almost beyond belief…The world’s eight richest men possess more wealth than the bottom half of humanity.”

McKibben devotes a fair amount of page real estate to Ayn Rand and her 1957 book Atlas Shrugged. He suggests that this book is required reading for the people who control the money and power in our country and around the world.

I was intrigued so I checked the book out of my local library. If you are interested in what I thought about that book, read the note at the end of the post.

Part Three: The Name of the Game

Genetic engineering and artificial intelligence enter the dialogue at this point. Here you will get a good overview of the topic as well as McKibben’s opinions.

“For our game, the real power of CRISPR comes with the ability to change people.” (CRISPR is a genetic engineering technology)

Part Four: An Outside Chance

Hope returns to the narrative in this section. McKibben points out that we already have the technologies and tools we need to address the climate crisis, like solar panels and nonviolent movements.

“Even in what seems like the very clinical world of environmentalism, mounds of research and data aren’t ultimately decisive: the fight over climate change is ultimately not an argument about infrared absorption in the atmosphere, but about power and money and justice. Given that industry has most of that money and hence most of that power, it usually wins—unless, of course, a movement arises, one capable of changing hearts as well as minds.”

The Bottom Line

Thirty years ago, Bill McKibben published The End of Nature which is often credited as being the first book about climate change intended for the general public. Since then, he has published 17 more books including Oil and Honey, Eaarth, and Radio Free Vermont (a delightful fiction book). McKibben is a prolific journalist, the co-founder of 350.org, and scholar in residence at Middlebury College in Vermont.

McKibben’s choice to frame the discussion in Falter using game language and concepts seemed kind of weird to me but somehow it works. He writes as if he is having a conversation with you and explains technical stuff in a way I think many people could understand. I like that. I think it makes his work accessible to a wide audience.

I recommend Falter to any human wanting to continue playing the human game and who wants to protect the game board for their children, grandchildren, and the people who come after them.

A Note about Atlas Shrugged

I wanted to read Atlas Shrugged because I feel it is important to try to understand where people are coming from, especially people with different perspectives and beliefs than me. I also enjoy debate (as long it is friendly).

In short Atlas Shrugged is a fiction book written as a sort of treatise on libertarianism taken to the nth degree.

I slogged away until I got to page 291 (of more than 1,200 pages) and then I took the book back to the library. The subject matter was not a problem for me but the book is so poorly written I just could not go on.

Featured Image at Top: A hand flipping wooden cubes from the word “change” to “chance – photo credit iStock/marchmeena29.

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