Stewards of our money
On Sunday the Rector reminded us that we are called to be ‘stewards’ of our resources and last week was Good Money Week. The topic earlier this month at the Charlbury Quaker Reading Group led by Ian Cave also happened to be Money, banks and finance, where the whole basis of our financial system and of money creation in economies like the UK’s was examined. There was an element, even in this discussion, of the now infamous ‘take back control’ slogan.
Good Money Week is a reminder of an everyday aspect of our consumer behaviour where we make a difference, whether we intend to or not, and which we do control. If you’ve been with your bank as long as I have, you know how it works and how it doesn’t (no branches within miles), you’re used to the lay-out of your statement and your cheque, you’ve memorised your PIN, you can even navigate your way round the online service with a few taps of your smartphone keys. How tempting it is just to stay put!
But, as Christian Aid is currently reminding us with their Big Shift campaign, just how much do you know about what your high street bank is doing with your money? And not just yours, but the millions and billions that lie in all our bank accounts. The banks invest your money to maximise their shareholders’ financial return. But where do they invest it? And do they tell you? How ethical is the investment that they are making on your behalf? You could ask them that question, and if it’s one of the ‘Big Six’ you might not get a satisfactory answer.
Your own ‘Big Shift’
The alternative to staying put, which may involve a bit of hassle at the outset and the time it takes to rebuild your comfort zone, is to switch banks – yes, even your current account, which nowadays can be done very efficiently. Triodos Bank, to name one ‘ethical’ option, offer a very reasonable easy-access savings account (‘very reasonable’ in today’s desperately stingy monetary environment), and Ecology Building Society are slightly more generous. And Triodos are beginning to roll out a current account, thus competing with established providers such as Co-op Bank who, like Triodos, do well on ethical scores. Other providers do of course exist and we may want to do our own shopping around before making any changes. What should motivate us to do so is the knowledge that many of the high street banks and the newer supermarket banks get very low ethical scores (below 10/20 or even below 5/20 according to Ethical Consumer’s ratings). So it is worth asking the questions. Some of the Building Societies often supply a more satisfactory answer.
The Charlbury Quakers are certainly asking the questions as, over a period of months, they discuss ‘the new economy’. At the recent meeting, a much more radical option was suggested than merely switching your bank account, though the political will still needs to be found. There are arguments (from Martin Wolf in the Financial Times to Positive Money’s 2016 publication, Sovereign Money) that contend that the whole system of money creation needs to be changed: did you know that 97% of our money supply was created by the commercial banks? Many are asking, in the wake of the disasters that surrounded the crisis of 2007-2008 worldwide (for which the poor are arguably still paying the price), whether we have changed enough about the way our financial system operates and is regulated.
That is another question which, unlike your bank account, you can’t do much about now: but do join Charlbury Quakers for next month’s discussion – this time on The role of markets.
October 16th 2017