Banking on Values

Banks and Values…?

In the age of Occupy and home foreclosures, the failure of institutions once thought to be ‘too big to fail’, and government intervention to put the pieces back together; any bank espousing ‘values’ seems to have drank too many glasses of corporate Kool-aid.

That WAS how I felt until I learned about the Global Alliance.  On March 8th, Vancity Credit Union hosted a community event featuring journalist Naomi Klein, Vancity CEO Tamara Vrooman, and U.K. economist Stewart Wallis to talk about how banks can ‘do good’ in the world.  Vancity is a part of an alliance of 14 sustainable banks worldwide who endeavour to ‘bank on values’ and accomplish social good through their investment.  Stewart Wallace explained, “Banks create credit- it’s the only legal free lunch in economics.  They are a crucial public service and should act like it.”

Given than most Canadians have no idea what investments are being made with their savings, in order for any of this ‘values-based-banking’ to work, people need to realize what investing in a typical big bank ultimately means.  Banks like TD finance oilsands development in Alberta, something which many Canadians may take issue with were they to be aware of it.  Vancity CEO Tamara Vrooman talked about how there has been a mass movement of individuals’ savings from ‘big banks’ to credit unions following the financial crisis in the US, while we haven’t seen the same transition in Canada.  She attributed this to the complacency of the Canadian financial industry.  We have spent the last few years praising our regulated system without recognizing some of the innate problems with larger banks that can be solved by promoting different financial models.

So- what is the answer?  Enter the Global Alliance for Banking on Values.  For a bank to be a member it must meet the following criteria:

  • Independent and licensed banks with a focus on retail customers
  • Minimum balance sheet of $50 million;
  • Be committed to social banking and the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit.

At the end of the day, knowing where your money is going and who/what it is financing can only make you a more intelligent consumer.  Check out the bank you keep your money with.  I concede that there is no easy answer when it comes to financial institutions, but if your current bank doesn’t fit with your values, another institution might.  If I’ve learned anything from the Global Alliance, the world of finance might be changing.  Smaller, localized, and values-based.  I like the way that sounds.


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