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Ethical Money - Banks & Building Societies

The notion of ‘ethical money’ may sound oximoronic at times, but there’s a great deal of truth to the fact that your money has a very real and distinct ethical component. Where you bank, where you spend your money, all of these things have an ethical outcome (for better or for worse). As our research has disclosed over a number of years, the choice of where you save your money could mean whether your hard earned personal finance is funding the manufacturing of cluster bombs and climate change or renewable energy and positive social projects.

Despite the credit crunch chaos that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers, most people still choose their banks or building societies for reasons of convenience – simply because there’s a branch around the corner or because they had an account with a predecessor of one of today’s conglomerates. As customers we should keep track on the way our banks behave, on the ethics of our money, and on the deep issues regarding modern finance and economy.

In the current economic context, we truly have a role to play when it comes to ethical money and choosing to use only ethical banks and building societies. By supporting an ethical, alternative bank you are ensuring your money doesn’t fund fossil fuels, human rights abuses, deeply questionable lobbying practices against progressive policies, or any number of other issues – you are ultimately making the choice to help assist in the development of and transition toward a better world.

Look out for our new sector-specific Ethical Accreditation c‍‍‍ertification marks which now cover over 15 different consumer product sectors. These are additional to our original Ethical Company mark that features on the packaging of over 100 million consumer products every year.

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Unethical Lending

The big banks have a notoriously bad history. Even in the last five years, banks have been condemned for funding rainforest destruction, for their involvement in highly controversial projects which damage the environment and hinder the fight against climate change, and for lending to governments of the world’s poorest countries so they can buy expensive military equipment (to name a few).

Since some mutual building societies don’t take business customers, they can never fund dubious business practices. Of those in the table, the Coventry, Yorkshire, Leeds do not lend commercially.

Perhaps the most rewarding way to store your money is with banks that have progressive investment policies. Charity Bank, the world’s first not-for-profit bank, only invests in social purpose organisations, while Triodos Bank lends solely to projects that add cultural value or are of benefit to people and the environment. Despite no longer being wholly owned by its members, the Co-op Bank has a transparent and comprehensive lending policy, available on their website. 

Tax Havens and Tax Avoidance

In 2011, ActionAid released a report showing that of the UK’s biggest companies listed on the London Stock Exchange, the banking and financial sector were by far the heaviest users of tax havens. The ‘Big Four’ High Street banks – HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds Group and RBS had a total of 1,649 tax haven subsidiaries between them. One of the main reasons companies use tax havens is for Corporate tax avoidance, which has a far-reaching impact on developing and developed countries which then lack funds for essential services like healthcare and education.

In February 2015, HSBC was facing criminal charges in Belgium and a criminal investigation in France on the allegation that it “knowingly promoted serious and organised tax fraud” after leaked files revealed HSBC’s Swiss bankers aggressively marketed a device that would allow its clients to avoid taxes.


Ethical Banking - Health Check

Information on the environmental and social policies and reporting standards of a range of banks can be found in an EIRIS factsheet, available at Charity Bank has been awarded Ethical Accreditation and should be highly commended accordingly.

Buy our detailed Ethical Research Reports. See the findings behind companies’ ethical ratings, as featured in The Good Shopping Guide. Several different product sectors available covering hundreds of consumer brands.

We have created ethical money comparison rankings for the following brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): Charity Bank, Ecology Building Society, Triodos Bank, The Co-operative Bank, Leeds Building Society, Nationwide Building Society, Skipton Building Society, Yorkshire Building Society, Coventry Building Society, AIB, Metro Bank, Monzo, Newcastle Building Society, Starling Bank, Virgin Money (UK), TSB, Atom Bank, Bank of Ireland, N26, thinkmoney, cater Allen, Revolut, Santander, Bank of Scotland, Citibank, Halifax, Lloyds Bank, Barclays, First Direct, HSBC, Natwest, RBS.

Disclosure:  Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning we earn commission if you click through and make a purchase. Placement and use of these links has no bearing in terms of the ethical scores that we give to a brand.  All commission earned by The Good Shopping Guide is re-invested into the research carried out by The Ethical Company Organisation.