By Rosie Venner, JustMoney Movement Programme Manager
Ethical banking wasn’t on my radar when I started university back in the early 2000s. I’m slightly ashamed to say that when I needed to open a current account, I simply opted for the bank that gave me a free overdraft and a railcard.
But then I took a module on South African history and learnt about the Boycott Barclays movement. I read stories of student activists urging individuals and institutions to close their accounts with Barclays because of the bank’s financial involvement in apartheid. The campaign grew and grew, running from the late 1960s until Barclays pulled out of South Africa in 1986.
It took me a while to join the dots and to learn from the witness of the students a generation before. What did I know about the bank I’d chosen? With hindsight, I realised that while I was going on peace marches as a student, my bank – Santander - was investing in controversial weapons like cluster bombs.
I began to understand the power that banks wield and the role that their loans and investments can play in perpetuating injustice. Soon after graduating I decided to switch to a bank that was more in line with the change I wanted to see in the world.
Concern around the behaviour of banks is on the rise. In recent years, campaigners have challenged banks on their links to nuclear weapons and human rights abuses. Climate movements – often led by students and young people – have drawn attention to the role of banks in fuelling the climate crisis through investments in oil and gas projects. At JustMoney Movement, we’ve campaigned on the financing of single-use plastics.
But while there is growing awareness of the need for a banking system that shapes a better world, most people in the UK still bank with the ‘big 4’ – Lloyds, HSBC, NatWest and Barclays – banks that have a poor track record on a whole range of issues from fossil fuel finance to transparency and tax avoidance.
Imagine what a difference it would make if people of faith, as part of a wider movement, championed values-based banks instead, banks that put people and planet first.
Equipping students to take action today:
As a student, my interest in justice and peace issues was ignited by involvement in the Student Christian Movement. With the Movement’s long history of equipping students to put their faith into action it’s no surprise that SCM was one of the organisations that publicly moved away from Barclays in the 1970s because of the bank’s involvement in apartheid South Africa.
So, I’m particularly excited that JustMoney Movement is partnering with SCM on a new project exploring ethical banking.
Student guides to banking tend to focus on finding the biggest overdraft or best incentives. The big high street banks still attract students with cashback offers and railcards, knowing that they are gaining customers who will be with them for years.
Researching your choice of bank, knowing where to go for information on ethical issues, committing to switch and then finding the time to do it – these can all feel like barriers to action.
In partnership with JustMoney Movement, Phoebe Edmonds, SCM’s Faith in Action Project Worker, has put together a four-week guide and a social media campaign that helps students switch to a more ethical bank. The guide includes the important step of telling your current bank why you are leaving and offers a template to help you do this creatively for bigger impact.
Connecting our faith and our finances:
When Phoebe and I met to plan the ethical banking project, we talked a bit about how our faith has motivated us to act, and why we need to look more closely at our financial decision making. We noted that Jesus didn’t shy away from talking about money and possessions in his teaching and parables.
There’s a reflection in Quaker Faith and Practice that speaks of being responsive to the Spirit’s leading in all areas of our lives because: “everything in the end can be distilled to relationships – our relationships with each other and the earth”.
I think that’s at the heart of what finally convinced me to switch bank and get involved in campaigning on ethical finance issues. If I am seeking to act with integrity in all aspects of my life and discipleship, my financial decisions are a part of that. My bank connects me to people and places that I care about. It matters where I bank.
Call to action:
Have you switched to a more ethical bank? Do you have a story to tell? Contact JustMoney Movement and let us know.
Want to join a network of people passionate about the just use of money? Become a JustMoney Champion.