Socially Responsible Banks:
Who You Should (and Shouldn’t)
Bank with!

by | Feb 13, 2020

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As the community around social enterprise and conscious consumerism continues to gain momentum there is one unavoidable (but often shamefully avoided) component to the whole movement: where is the money coming from when we vote with our dollar?

We understand that we can build the society we want to live in by spending money with socially responsible companies who operate in a way that aligns with our values, but that effort often starts and stops with spending money. 

Is there something else we should be doing before we spend? 

Change your bank!

Every dollar that you deposit into your bank goes somewhere. Banks are businesses that need to make money. Often, the social or environmental impact of where these big banks are investing their money is an afterthought to their bottom line. 

It’s no news to anyone that “big banks” operate in ways that jeopardize our economic stability for the benefit of their profits, contribute to and strengthen social inequalities, and support environmental destruction by investing in industries like fossil fuels. 

So what are we “voting for” when we choose to keep our money with banks like JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, or Wells Fargo?

Do we want to continue counteracting our own protests of destructive projects like the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) by contributing to these banks? 

Good news: we are choosing to support these banks, so that means we can choose not to!

Dakota Access Pipeline protests

What Defines a “Socially Responsible Bank”?

Socially responsible banks ensure that the money deposited into your bank account gets repurposed and invested in an ethical way. 

By focusing on positive environmental, social, and political impact, these financial institutions are making conscious money management a reality and giving people, like us, power to have say in how their money is used. 

This is very different than the facade of “corporate responsibility” that you may see at larger institutions. There are a few certifications that can help you spot ethical banking. 

There are stringent guidelines for obtaining these certifications, which ensure that a bank is committed to “green banking practices” and positive social impact. 

If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a million times…it’s always nice to see the B! Because B Corp certified companies “are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment,” this certification provides transparency and accountability. 

As an aspiring B Corp, we can vouch for the rigorous certification process and the inspiring community around the B Corp movement. You can search the B Corp Directory here for banking and finance institutions that are B Corp certified.

GABV is an independent network of banks around the work that collectively seek to change the banking system “so that it is more transparent, supports economic, social and environmental sustainability, and is composed of a diverse range of banking institutions serving the real economy.” 

You can not only find a GABV bank around the globe with their interactive map, but you can learn about how each bank is using its business to create real, inspiring economic impact.

 Our friends at Amalgamated Bank show off both their B Corporation Certification and membership to the Global Alliance for Banking on Values on their website. 😎

CDFI certification is for banks, loan, and credit institutions that contribute to the revitalization and investment in the underserved economic communities. The program is a project of the U.S. Department of Treasury, and certification requires financial institutions to join in expanding access to financial services needed for economic development. 

Socially Responsible Banks are Ethical Lenders

Not only do these financial institutions abstain from lending to industries that are detrimental to our environment, but they also avoid investing with socially-harmful companies, like tobacco and firearms manufacturers. 

Often, you will also find that these banks integrate sustainable and socially-conscious practices into their own business operations. 

Better Banks are Better Community Members! 

When you are banking with a socially responsible bank, you are helping make a positive impact in your community. Many of these organizations are vital to funding sustainable and affordable housing for low-income communities, whether through partnerships with outside entities or through investing their own funds. 

They are also known for granting loans to our most economically vulnerable communities, allowing for the vicious cycle of poverty to be stopped in its tracks. Sometimes, they do both. 

Amalgamated Bank has a community development team that focuses on making economic upward mobility more accessible through grants, loans, and financial literacy education programs. They work with individuals, unions, nonprofits, developers, and community-based organizations to help keep housing affordable and financial resources accessible for marginalized communities.

And while social responsibility is an identifying aspect of socially responsible banks, it isn’t the only benefit! 

They Have Lower Fees and More Savings!

Because the sole focus of these institutions isn’t just to make a buck, they can often offer much better perks for their members. “Big banks” tend to have profit-building policies like a minimum balance and a fee if you go below that amount or low interest rates for savings accounts. 

But, that is not the case with socially responsible banks and credit unions as they usually offer free checking accounts. Another advantage is that socially responsible banks sometimes offer much higher APY (Annual Percentage Yield). 

Savings rates for the big banks are typically .01%—a meager figure in comparison to the 1% that some socially responsible banks offer.

Deposits Are Still Insured

Socially responsible banks enjoy the same insurance protection as their socially-destructive counterparts. Either through the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) or NCUA (National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund), up to $250,000 of deposits are protected and insured. While this is technically not a requirement of banks, nearly every reputable bank is a member of either federal program. 

Banks will proudly communicate they are are FDIC insured (and credit unions will do the same with the NCUA!) You don’t have to worry about the safety of your money when banking with an entity that practices socially responsible investing.

4 Socially Responsible Banks (and What They Are Doing to Make a Difference)

1. Aspiration Bank

This online bank is a certified B-Corp and fellow 1% for the Planet member. An industry leader in giving back, Aspiration donates 10% of every dollar their customers pay to charity. 

Aspiration’s impact is the opposite of what you’d expect from a big bank. Not only do they not invest in fossil fuels, but they also have a Planet Protection option. That means you pay $6.00/month or $60/year. Then, they do some of the world-saving legwork for you, automatically offsetting the carbon emissions for each gallon of gas you purchase with your Aspiration card. 

One of our favorite aspects of Aspiration Bank is that it tracks your purchases to give you a personal sustainability score (“an Aspiration Impact Measurement” or AIM) so you can see whether you’re matching your spending with your values. It scores businesses the same way. When you spend money at a business with a high AIM score, you get an additional .5% cashback on your purchase!

They also offer up to 1% APY on their savings accounts and allow for the customers to choose their monthly fees…(blowing the .01% we mentioned for the traditional big banks out of the water).

Aspiration Bank at a Glance:

  • checking & savings accounts
  • personal banking
  • 1% cashback when spent with a business with a high AIM score; .5% cashback when spent at all businesses up $545/year
  • investment management
  • no minimum deposit for checking accounts; $10 minimum deposit for investment and retirement accounts
  • choose your own maintenance/service fees
  • 5 fee-free ATM withdrawals/month
  • Only online banking

Based in New York, Amalgamated Bank is both a certified B-Corp and a member of the GABV. Giving homeowners special lines of credit for solar panels, financing community housing, and banking hundreds of political campaigns are just a few of the ways they are strengthening our communities. 

They are also leading the way in environmental impact, powered 100% by renewable energy. What they don’t do is equally impressive. Their investments are completely tobacco-free and include zero fossil fuels. 

Internally, Amalgamated Bank’s workforce is over 60% women or P.O.C. As a lender, Amalgamated Bank also offers niche lending products to assist their customers in environment and social initiatives. They are also the first bank to raise their minimum wage to $20/hour. 

Check out their mission and a full list of the issues they are tackling to see if they may be a match for you.

Amalgamation at a Glance:

  • checking & savings accounts
  • credit card accounts
  • personal and commercial banking
  • investment management
  • no minimum deposit
  • no maintenance/service fees
  • 2 fee-free ATM withdrawals/month
  • online banking
  • Locations in San Francisco, Washington D.C., New York

Based In Minnesota, Sunrise Bank is a certified B Corp, member of the GABV, and certified CDFI. It is also a Public Benefit Corporation, which means it voluntarily meets “the highest standards of corporate purpose, accountability, and transparency.”

Sunrise Bank has a large focus on volunteerism, powering North 4 Good, an organization that engages volunteers with volunteering opportunities in the Twin Cities. 

Volunteering goes to the core of Sunrise Bank. They give their employees 40 hours of paid volunteer time off. 

You can check out their 2018 Impact Report for more data on their social efforts.

Sunrise at a Glance:

  • checking & savings accounts
  • credit card accounts
  • personal and commercial banking
  • 2% cash back on debit card purchases (up to $10/month)
  • $100 minimum balance
  • no maintenance/service fees
  • up to $20 in ATM fee refunds nationwide per month
  • online banking
  • Locations in the Twin Cities

Found throughout the Pacific Northwest, BSB is a certified B-Corp, member of the GABV, and certified CDFI. 

Beneficial State Bank is big in the nonprofit banking game, with nonprofits going to the core of their operation including their entire ownership model. All of the profits from Beneficial State Bank go to their charity foundation: the Beneficial State Foundation.

Those profits then go to the owners of the company, who must be and are exclusively nonprofit organizations that are “committed to reinvesting those profits back to the overburdened communities [they] serve and the environment upon which we all depend.”

Check out their entire impact portfolio, here.

Beneficial State Bank at a Glance:

  • checking & savings accounts
  • credit card accounts coming in 2020
  • personal and commercial banking
  • nonprofit banking
  • 2% cash back on debit card purchases (up to $10/month)
  • $50-$100 to open checking account
  • minimum balance varies from $0-$2,500 based on account type
  • maintenance/service fees vary from $0-10/month based on account type
  • online banking
  • Locations in the Twin Cities

Next Actions: Get Started Banking Consciously…

1. Are You Banking Responsibly?

Check to see if you are already banking responsibly. If you are banking with a credit union, for example, you might already be! Credit unions are not-for-profit institutions that are owned by their members.

2. If Not, Let’s Switch! Don’t be Afraid!

Check out the banks we listed above. A few of us at Grow Ensemble love banking with Aspiration, but there are plenty of options for you to find what’s best for you and your values.

Our list is not exhaustive. There are hundreds of local banks, certified B Corp banks, and CDFIs that may have what you’re looking for. Click through some of the links throughout the post to find your match.

3. Open an Account at Your New Financial Institution

Just do it. Sign up is easy and often takes less than 5 minutes. If your new bank requires a minimum balance, it’s usually low enough to transfer the amount into your new account on the spot. 

4. Get the Most Out of Your New Account

Once this first step is taken care of, there’s no need to waste any time! One-by one, shift over any direct deposits you have set up. That will force you to start using your new card, and that means the start of your positive impact on the world (and getting any benefits offered from your new bank).

Bills, bills, bills. Have auto-payments on bills? Make sure to plug in your new account information. Worry less about the Netflix and Spotify subscriptions, we will address those in a second.

5. Close Your Old Account

Call your old polluting bank and break things off. It’s them, not you. Let them know it’s just not working out. Their obsession with fossil fuels and shareholder primacy has caused a riff. Things with the planet are getting pretty serious, and you’re ready to take things to the next level with a sweeter and more sustainable bank.

6. Cleaning Up Your Subscriptions 

Think you may have lingering subscriptions and memberships you’ve forgotten about? Once you close your old accounts, they will reach out to you for updated payment information. This will not only be a great reminder to update with your new account info, but it will also give you the chance to clean house and save a buck or two if you so choose.

REJOICE in the fruits of ethical and socially responsible banking!

Now you can sleep better at night knowing that your hard-earned dollars are being put to good use, making the world a better place (even when you aren’t spending). 

If you find a bank you like and open an account, let us know how your experience is so we can add to our list and spread the wealth!

Henry Burgess-Marshall

Henry Burgess-Marshall


Henry is an entrepreneur based out of Seattle, Wa. He is an avid reader, writer, and lover of nature. His passion for people and connection with others has led him to work with some incredible individuals and companies. He is always looking for the next exciting adventure, whether it be in his personal life or business pursuit. 
You can connect with Henry on LinkedIn and at his Company’s website here

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