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How We Ditched Our Dirty Banks (and How You Can as Well)

Updated February 7, 2024 by Katherine, Jacklyn, Neil, Dave and Nicole
Woman on phone seated in front of neon dollar signs with piggy bank in front of her.

Photo by Michael Kessel from Pixabay.

It feels great to know that your bank isn’t funding climate calamity. But actually executing the switch can feel intimidating. The good news is, it’s generally easier than you think.  

Below, five members of the Bank.Green team share their stories about switching banks. Learn how they found their new banks, how they made the switch, and their advice for making your switch even smoother.

Part I: Katherine (Research Team) 

It was an ordinary day in the summer of 2023 when I finally achieved my long-standing dream of cutting up my debit card. It had been issued by my (now old) bank that I discovered was fueling the climate crisis. It was a joyous day – I was free of the guilt, guilt that my money (that of a lifelong climate advocate) was used to finance construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure.  

For years I had been a car-free thrifting vegan who powers her home with renewable energy, so I thought I was doing fine by climate. I was a late bloomer in realizing green finance was even more impactful than important choices like taking transit and eating a plant-based diet.  

Picking my new bank 

I used bank.green in combination with my own research to pick my new bank. Most sustainable banks are either community banks, credit unions or neo-banks. I chose a neo-bank because of their investment policy as well as the user-friendliness of their mobile app. I had also heard the bank founder’s interview on a climate podcast and found him to be thoughtful and inspirational.  

A quick note on what a neo-bank is. It is not actually a bank, in that it does not hold a banking license. Instead, your account(s) will be with its partner bank, typically a community bank. And because of that, your deposits will be insured up to $250,000 in the US and £85,000 in the UK. But also because of that, you need to do your due diligence on both organizations, or you can just look at the Sustainable Banks page on our website.  

Sustainable banks come in many different forms. Some simply do not lend to certain sectors (oil & gas, tobacco, guns), others proactively only fund certain sustainable activities, such as utility-scale or community solar renewable energy projects. I chose the latter as, once again, I was looking to maximize impact. 

Moving my money 

It took a couple of weeks to fully transition from the two old bank accounts (checking and savings) to the new accounts with a neo-bank. The savings account was easy – I opened it in under one minute, moved the money across, and closed the old one. What took time was switching over the multiple direct pays, subscriptions and donations coming out of the checking account. I would very much recommend this two-step approach of tackling the savings account followed by the checking account (if you have savings, that is). 

At first, I decided to keep the checking account with the old bank open (with a zero balance) so I could make international payments (many neo-banks do not have that facility). However, I soon received a penalty from the old bank for not maintaining a sufficient balance (of $1,000) which I paid and on the same day I closed that account. If need be, I would use an international payments transfer service to move money abroad.  

A median balance that an American adult has in their day-to-day bank account is $8,000. Moving $8,000 to a green bank may seem like it won’t have much of an impact. However, if just one in every 500 of us were to do the same, this would defund a new refinery plant or a section of an oil pipeline.     

I am happy with my new bank, and I have no regrets about cutting up that red debit card.  

Part II: Nicole (Content Team) 

My mom passed away recently, and I inherited a couple of bank accounts from her that were with a very dirty bank. My mom didn’t choose to bank with a fossil-fuel funding financial institution. Decades ago, she’d opened an account with an area bank, that got devoured by a bigger bank, and then a bigger bank, until finally she was banking with one of the most climate-destroying banks in the world. I knew I had to change that. 

Picking My New Bank 

My area has many community banks, and I called several to learn about their fossil fuel holdings. Once I’d found a few fossil fuel free banks, I chose the one that also invested money in community efforts that aligned with my values. I actually went in person to my bank to open an account, because it was in my neighborhood. The staff were all friendly and helpful. 

Moving My Money 

Moving my money was the easiest thing from a logistical standpoint – but very difficult from an emotional standpoint. I’d been to Mom’s bank while she was sick and after she died to sort out all of her financial matters. The staff were incredibly kind and helpful, even notarizing paperwork for free. When I explained why I was changing banks they were all very distressed to learn their bank was funding fossil fuels. 

They issued me a check for all the funds. I then walked two doors down the street, entered my new bank, and deposited the check into my new account. It was that easy. The staff are equally nice and helpful, their online systems are even easier to navigate, and their mobile app is heaps better. And now my mom’s money is being invested in a community she loved, instead of fossil fuels. 

Part III: Jacklyn (Research Team) 

I opened my first bank account when I was a teenager about to head off to college. At the time, my jobs were the kind that paid in cash – babysitting, tutoring and teaching swimming. My only requirements were: it had to have a branch near my house, a branch near my college, and have conveniently located ATMs so I could deposit that cash. I went with a big national bank because it seemed like it would be the easiest and most convenient option. 

Once I left college, I began learning about ESG (environmental, social and governance) and impact investing. Then I started working full-time in the impact investing space. That led me to focus on aligning my investments with my values. And then I realized I needed to do the same thing with my bank. 

Picking My New Bank 

My requirements for a bank were different this time around. I wanted a bank that aligned with my values. Environmental and social impact were more important than ATM locations. My job paid me with direct deposit, so I didn’t need to deposit cash, and I didn’t need to get it out that often.  

But there are months where I do need to make a lot of transactions. One amazing bank I looked at limited how much money you could use per month. Based on the things going on in my life at that time, that restriction wasn’t going to work for me. It was a good thing I’d read the account opening documents thoroughly, or I might have missed it. Lesson learned: read the documents before you move your money! 

I chose a local bank because I wanted to support my community, and because it wasn’t financing industries that go against my values. 

Moving My Money 

My biggest block in making the move was mental. I’d built a history with that big bank. I had a status with them, and I felt like that status mattered. But when I switched banks, I realized the bank didn’t care about me as a person at all, and barely as a customer. 

My new bank has been so kind. When I have questions, they are significantly more helpful than my old mega-bank. Where my old bank would leave me on hold for hours, when I call my new bank they actually put me through to a real person. I switched banks for my values, but I’ve also gotten a huge upgrade in service. 

Part IV: Dave (Fundraising Team) 

My first ever bank was a children’s ‘Instant Saver’ with the Halifax in the UK, and the reason for the choice was simply that my family already banked with them and I was only about 11 or 12!  I have a faint memory of it being advertised with a pink piggy bank logo, and I have many memories of going down to deposit my wages there every week from my first ever job, or to deposit my birthday money after my grandma sent a cheque in the post!  

I stayed with the Halifax until I was nearly 30, and all this time I was an environmentally conscious person and I took steps to reduce my environmental impact.  Steps which were often quite large, or had a big impact on my life.  I had no idea I could have more effect just by switching my banks!   

Eventually I learned that moving my money to a bank that didn’t use it to harm the earth was one of the most impactful things I could do.  That led to lots of Googling on what I could do, and that took me to Bank.Green!   

Picking My New Bank 

I used Bank.Green’s tool to see which banks I could switch to in the UK.  I chose Triodos finally, as it seemed like a great choice and I saw they were active across much of Europe, which I wanted to support to grow.   

In the end it wasn’t just me who switched, both my parents did, and we took a pretty penny with us on the way!   

Since then, I’ve also opened accounts with the Co-operative, Monzo and Starling, choosing these for their good Bank.Green ratings (on top of the great services they provide!) 

Moving My Money 

Moving my money was nice and simple. Triodos were so helpful along the way, and I’ve had great help from their customer service team a number of times. Starling and Monzo are both brilliant too, and the Co-operative are flawless – definitely the best high-street bank in the UK! 

My time with my old bank feels like a distant dream now.  I closed my accounts and put my money somewhere it can only do good.  Wondering if there’s anything I would have done differently, there is one thing that comes to mind – I wish I’d switched earlier!  My money could have been doing good for the world for almost 15 years more!   

Part V: Neil (Content Team) 

I’m from England, but in 2020 I was temporarily living in Australia when I discovered that my bank, NatWest, was probably using my money to invest in fossil fuels. I decided to write about the topic for Extinction Rebellion, which included contacting NatWest and straight-up asking the question: “What do you use my money for?” What followed was weeks of obfuscation, greenwashing and confusing documents. By the time I finally got the truth out of NatWest, I couldn’t wait to close my accounts. 

Picking My New Bank 

I picked Triodos UK, because I knew I wanted a bank that was explicitly dedicated to helping the environment, with clear information on what it did and did not finance; at the time (and perhaps still) Triodos was the obvious choice in the UK. 

Moving My Money 

Switching was very difficult for me, because I was trying to close and open UK bank accounts while not actually living there, with no clear indication of when I would return from Australia. Understandably, banks don’t like that. The easiest thing would have been to wait until I came home, but the pandemic kept my plans in the air for years and I was determined to move my money asap. My situation was obviously unusual, but I did achieve the switch eventually and – aside from the complications arising from being abroad indefinitely – the movement of my money was taken care of by NatWest and Triodos. I remember it being easy enough to talk to somebody from Triodos on the phone while I was in Australia, which I really appreciated. 

I live back in the UK now and I am very happy with Triodos. For example, I never struggle to talk to somebody on the phone or by email, which is very important to me. Yes, NatWest’s digital banking experience was slicker and Triodos doesn’t have any physical branches, but these drawbacks don’t personally affect me very much. And they pale in comparison to knowing my money is working to improve our future. 

Start to Bank Green Today

Banks live and die on their reputations. Mass movements of money to fossil-free competitors puts those reputations at grave risk. By moving your money to a sustainable financial institution, you will:

Send a message to your bank that it must defund fossil fuels

Join a fast-growing movement of consumers standing up for their future

Take a critical climate action with profound effects

Bank.Green is a project of Empowerment Works Inc. 501(c)(3)