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May 17

Changing the Financial Logic

Yesterday I went to the Charity Bank’s annual meeting for investors and other stakeholders. How often do you get to sit in a room with board members, staff and (strangest of all) beneficiaries of your bank? (I did have the same experience with both Triodos and Zopa – Charity Bank aren’t the only ones but it’s a pretty small club so far)

And after twenty years of coaxing IFAs into providing me with ethical options it strikes me that we have the telescope the wrong way round on this. How about if instead of branding some products as Ethical Finance we used the corollary and branded the rest Unethical Finance?

Because with the current set up it is all too easy to default into “normal” banks, “normal” pensions and the like. Have you ever been asked “Fair Trade or normal?” when you order your coffee? – I certainly have.

Let’s make ethical the new normal

Enough of this barrier of having to feel like you can defend yourself for your bizarre choice of ethical finance. Being cutting edge and championing justice will always appeal to a few, but the research I have done on ethical and sustainable brands suggests that many customers are wary of this due to lack of knowledge, certainty or confidence. It is unfair (and unsustainable) for society to make it so hard for people to make the right choices. It’s time to change the logic.

Any of us can start to introduce the concept to our world. If it’s not Fair Trade it’s Unfair Trade, if it’s not Ethical Finance it’s Unethical Finance. Ask for it by name. See if it shifts your own perceptions (and anybody else’s). I know it flummoxed my high street bank when after 3 hours of “personal consultation” I asked them if they seriously expected me to sign up for their Unethical Pension. Once I phrased the question like that they stopped insisting that the responsible finance advice was to go for the highest returns. Yes, look where that got us.

It has to start somewhere. We can wait for governments to process legislation. Or we can wait for mainstream financial institutions to have an epiphany. Or we can make choices ourselves. Switching my ISA from Santander to Charity Bank was easy. And when I phoned them with a question a human being answered the phone – that on its own almost justifies making the switch doesn’t it? Same with Ecotricity. Friendly human beings trying to help. No complicated excuses, just humans helping humans. They get my business, I get the service I want and society gets a little less unethical business to cope with. You might want to try it if you haven’t already.

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