Intentful Consumers #4 — Banks


As a project this year, I’ve committed to researching the most ethical brands of the products I consume such that I can change my spending habits to support the causes I believe. I’m of the opinion that this is the best way as an individual to make an impact on the world; the way I consume, or lack thereof. However, I realize that there are a lot of logical traps in determining what is ethical, and I’m sure a lot of my other existing behaviors might be counter productive or downright hypocritical, but my intent is to at least start trying. Thus, I’m deeming myself an “intentful” consumer (You’re right, intentful is not a real word).

This time I investigated ethical banks. Why? Banks are our communal tool for funding societal needs, so where you store your money is the best way you can have some control in the direction of what we fund as a society, and thus our future. Though, as you might imagine, it’s difficult to judge a bank as they’ve got their hands in all sorts of investments both “good” and “bad”. However, with return on investment for shareholders and executives a top priority (and legal responsibility) for the publicly traded mega-banks, there’s more motivation to turn a blind eye to funding controversial projects. A relevant aside, if you want to see if you’ve funded oil pipelines via your bank funding Energy Transfer Partners you can use this tool (odds are it does):

Thus, I argue that we would benefit as a society by distributing wealth across more banks than an oligarchical few corporate mega-banks. While it would make funding large capital investments more challenging to coordinate, it would ensure that no one bank can be “too big to fail”, thus we could actually punish banks that counter our values. The concerns I have with corporate mega-banks is that it seems they have started offsetting losses from high risk investing by exploiting their baseline customers. They have dismal interest returns and exploitative fee structures (largely targeting the poor). Overdraft fees are not proportional to the amount of the overdraft, thus they typically end up being 300%+ high interest loans. Wachovia (now Wells Fargo) was caught reordering withdrawals in order to incite more overdraft fees (happened to me personally). Wells Fargo was caught opening fake accounts to meet sales targets. Bank of America at one time charged a fee to close an account (now outlawed in some states). Bank of America exorbitantly charged $.40+ per debit card swipe to merchants when the cost of processing the transaction was $.08. When laws limited their charge to $.21, they in turn charged customers $5 per month if they ever made a debit card purchase. To no surprise, the top banks have the lowest customer satisfaction.

So, to keep things simple, I’m recommending that you pursue using a local cooperative bank or credit union. These banks have a commitment to benefiting their members and not outside investors, which leaves them less vulnerable to schemes for short-term gains. In addition, they typically have higher savings account interest rates and better financing terms.

This tool will help you find local credit unions:

However, if you must use an international bank (good for travelers), I’m recommending Charles Schwab bank:

For IRA and investments, I’m recommending The Vanguard Group:

Top 4 banks: (B Corp, committed to environmental and social responsibility) (B Corp, online banking w/ eco-friendly focus, has a nifty app to tell you the impact of the businesses you support via your purchase history) (Cooperative bank) (Reimburses ATM fees, free trades, no foreign conversion fee, relatively good ethics compared to industry w/ diverse workforce & high employee satisfaction)


Want to do your own research? Here are some links that should help!

software dev researching ethical products at