habit shift: ethical banking.

August 18, 2021

I’m not a financial expert, to put it mildly. Like lots of folks, my most pressing financial concerns are more along the lines of how we’re going to pay for childcare and rent each month than if I have a robust investment portfolio. Still, I live in the world. I earn money and pay bills and rely on banks and other financial institutions to navigate these murky waters. And murky they are. Without getting too much out of my depth, it’s clear enough that large US megabanks like JP Morgan, Citibank, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Goodman Sachs contribute enormously to climate change by lending many billions of dollars to the fossil fuel companies who are in turn driving the worst of the climate crisis. Likewise, when folks open retirement funds or investment accounts, they’re often unwittingly propping up extractive businesses that don’t align with their values. Choosing to invest our money— or even just open up a humble checking account—at smaller, community-centered, mission-driven banks and investment funds means getting to invest in our local communities and in climate solutions. Like other habit shifts, it’s a small change that individual folks can do in the face of so much that needs fixing.

As I prepare to shift my own banking habits, I thought I’d share some of the most compelling options I’ve come across to help with making the change. For other folks just starting to think about this stuff, I found last week’s episode of How to Save a Planet: Are My Retirement Savings Invested in Fossil Fuels?? Help! to be extremely helpful. Ditto Amanda Holden‘s (aka Dumpster Doggy) online workshop Ethical Banking and Investing. (The recording of her live workshop is available for purchase through this Sunday for just $25. If you’re interested in hearing lots more from someone who knows a lot more than me, it’s a really great place to start.) Real Money Moves is a nonprofit organization leading the charge on getting folks to think about impact investing. Their resource page is filled with short and sweet videos introducing a lot of these concepts.

Online/Fintech Banking Solutions

Amalgamated Bank

Amalgamated Bank comes highly recommended to me from a number of friends and small business owners. They’re a Certified B-Corp offering lots of options for banking, borrowing, and investing. They offer checking accounts with no minimum balance and no monthly maintenance fee. They have robust online banking as well as physical locations in NYC, DC, and SF. In their words: “When you deposit your money at Amalgamated, it supports sustainable organizations, progressive causes, and social justice. We are committed to environmental and social responsibility. We’re net-zero and powered by 100% renewable energy, and we have a long, proud history of providing affordable access to the banking system, supporting immigrants and affordable housing, and being a champion of workers’ rights.” They even have an option for a “give back checking” account, wherein Amalgamated will match half the interest earned on your money and donate it to the organization of your choice.

Aspiration seems to have taken out an ad on every single New York City bus shelter and billboard lately, so naturally I’ve investigated. It bills itself as a clean money bank (technically a fintech company) that offers savings and checking accounts, investments, and retirement funds. It’s an online only e-bank with free access to ATMs around the country. They also offer a % cash back on purchases from companies included in their “conscience coalition” and provide clients with “personal impact scores” to illustrate how an individual’s purchases align with their values. Access to Aspiration comes with a yearly fee. Folks can either choose what they pay or become a “plus member” for $7.99/mo (or $5.99/mo if you pay annually). The basic and plus account guarantees that deposits won’t fund fossil fuel exploration or production and the plus account additionally offers carbon offset for all gas purchases.

Atmos Financial
Atmos currently offers climate-positive savings accounts. In their words, “One of the biggest blockers to the massive adoption of emissions-reducing technology is access to low-cost capital—a lot of it. Atmos is solving the problem by building a new banking model designed to exclusively finance climate-positive projects at scale, with bank deposits. When you open an Atmos account, you benefit from higher savings rates while advancing the transition to a clean economy.” Atmos’s FDIC-insured savings accounts have no monthly fees and no minimum balance.

Purpose Banking
A mobile vegan bank working with partners to “divest from cruelty and promote a kinder and more sustainable future for all beings.” Deposits through Purpose will never fund factory farming, fossil fuels, or private prisons. Over 50% of financing supports women and minority-owned businesses, underserved communities, and sustainable projects. A portion of earnings is distributed to advocacy work at no additional cost to clients. No monthly fees or minimum balance. They offer high-interest checking accounts and 55,000+ free ATMs. There’s currently a waitlist to join.

Community Banks, Minority Banks, and Credit Unions

Not every credit union or community bank offers climate-positive banking specifically, but as an antidote to the fossil fuel-funding megabanks, going the hyper local route means supporting a robust local economy rather than an inscrutable global system that might be propping up business you’d rather not support.

Independent Community Bankers of America is an excellent resource for finding a community bank near you. Similarly, you might look into FDCI-insured Minority Depository Institutions and Community Development Financial Institutions, which are specifically established to help folks not served by the mainstream banking system. You can explore the full map of minority banks and community development banks and/or this map of Black banks and credit unions across the US.

Investment Options

Fossil Free Funds is a search engine designed to help folks find mutual funds and EFTS (exchange traded funds) that avoid fossil fuel investments. In addition to helping folks identify climate-positive investments, they also make it easy to search for names of companies you’re currently invested in to see how they rank.

Betterment is an investment and savings app that includes options for folks interested in Socially Responsible Investing. Clients can choose from portfolios that divest from holders of fossil fuel reserves and that support “minority empowerment and gender diversity in the workplace.” (More on this in the episode of How To Save a Planet mentioned above.)

Chordata Capital is “an anticapitalist wealth management firm with a commitment to support clients in redistributing rather than continuing to accumulate wealth.” The firm operates with the understanding that “the most strategic role for wealthy investors in transforming our economy is divesting from Wall Street and shifting their money into community-controlled investments that center racial and economic justice.” Their site is full of resources, including their zine, Invest in the Solidarity Economy Now! and folks can hire them directly for personal wealth management.

Green Century Capital Management has been helping folks make environmentally and socially responsible investments for the last thirty years. In addition to being fossil fuel-free, Green Century Funds do not invest in producers of nuclear weapons or nuclear energy, guns or civilian weapons, military weapons, tobacco, or GMOs. (They’re also interviewed in the episode of How To Save a Planet mentioned above should you want to hear more.)

If you have recommendations or endorsements of your own to give, please feel free to do so in the comments below (bearing in mind that we’re not here to give each other specific financial advice and that money and personal finance is, well, personal.)

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  • Reply julie August 18, 2021 at 11:34 am

    Thank you for all these resources! I have always had my (paltry) retirement funds invested with Domini Impact Investments and only have positive things to say about them. Their Sustainable Solutions Fund is worth a look.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 18, 2021 at 11:57 am

      Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Reply Megan August 18, 2021 at 12:42 pm

    Thank you so much for tackling a subject that feels big and daunting and for me, completely overwhelming, but so important. Especially since I grew up in a family where money was never discussed.

  • Reply Ashley August 18, 2021 at 7:25 pm

    Credit unions are wonderful! They are not for profit unlike banks 🙂

  • Reply latonya August 18, 2021 at 10:58 pm

    My very first bank account was with Peoples Alliance Federal Credit Union. I think they’re Black-owned and know that they’re local as well.

  • Reply Andrea August 19, 2021 at 2:53 am

    Excellent list/write-up! I hope, one day, we will have a similar selection in the Philippines. Thanks Erin.

  • Reply Sara August 20, 2021 at 8:12 pm

    Just gotta say, I read the headline as “Ethical Baking” and went, wow, there’s that too? Ok, ok, let me catch up…

  • Reply Seth August 20, 2021 at 10:50 pm

    Newground Social Investment, based in Seattle, is another one I know of who has doing this for a while.

  • Reply liz September 2, 2021 at 7:09 pm

    I have a small retirement fund that I rolled over after I left a non-proft into an IRA invested entirely with green century. It does very well. To get my funds 100% into green century, however, i had to talk to several money bros and their managers who tried their damnedest to talk me out of it. I live in mpls, and have been quite happy with Sunrise Bank, which is a local option for anyone else who might live here as well.

  • Reply Samantha Tillapaugh September 9, 2021 at 11:01 pm

    Erin! This is the best thing that I have read in a long time! I am a blogger at TheDebtist.com and I write about finance all the time but you’ve absolutely blown my mind with this ethical banking post. This certainly needs to gain more awareness. Thank you for sharing.

  • Reply Cathy October 19, 2021 at 1:39 pm

    Hi Erin,
    This is an amazing post and I’m still thinking about it! Curious to know if you ever settled on one of these banks/credit unions and if you are happy with it. I’m about to open a small business in Brooklyn and unsure where to go…
    Many thanks!!

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