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Nachhaltige Banken: Blumen mit Geld
Climate Crisis,  Money

Sustainable Banks – Every Euro is a Ballot!

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This is the sequel to the article “Is Your Bank also Investing in the Destruction of Our Future?”. While the focus there was primarily on the devastating investments and business practices of many commercial banks, in this part we look at possible solutions: sustainable banks.

We cannot wait for the commercial banks to become aware of their ethical and ecological responsibility and finally to systematically pursue divestment, i.e. to withdraw their (actually our) money from fossil fuel projects. Rather, each and every one of us should consider whether our own money would not be better off with a sustainable bank.

Sustainable banks, what is that supposed to be?

“Sustainability” is a flexible (and unfortunately often overused) term. So you need clear criteria in order to be able to get an idea of sustainable banks. These have mostly set exclusion and positive criteria for themselves, here using the example of GLS Bank (Source: GLS investment and financing principles):

  • Exclusion of controversial business areas: Atomic energy, coal energy, armaments and weapons, biocides and pesticides, genetic engineering in agriculture, organochlorine mass products, factory farming, embryo research, addictive substances
  • Exclusion of controversial business practices: Violation of human rights, violation of labor rights, animal testing, controversial environmental behavior, controversial economic practices
  • Positive criteria – forward-looking socio-ecological business areas: Renewable Energy, food, agriculture & forestry, housing, education & culture, social & health, mobility, sustainable economy
  • Positive criteria – sustainable corporate management: Corporate policy, social responsibility, resource-saving management, development policy goals, product responsibility

The individual criteria are described in more detail in the document linked above. Other sustainable banks have committed themselves to investment and financing principles similar to those of GLS.

How many sustainable banks are there?

According to the consumer advice center in Bremen, only four of the banks active in Germany today meet the sustainability criteria, that are:

Sustainable banks in comparison

Even with this small selection of banks, it is worth taking a closer look, because the products on offer and their conditions may differ. For example, the UmweltBank does not provide current accounts, but may have quite attractive conditions for investments. In the following, you will find an overview of the three popular products current account, call money and fixed deposit / savings bond. All information is provided without guarantee – you can of course find more details directly on the banks’ websites. The links behind the product names lead you directly to the conditions of the providers.

Current account

BankProductMonthly base priceDebit card p.a.Account management total p.a.Overdraft rate p.a.
EthikBankGirokonto€ 8,50
+ € 0,12 per TAN
€ 15€ 1177,5%
GLS BankGirokonto
GLS fee (for all GLS products)
€ 3,80
€ 5,00
€ 15
(€ 0 for members)
€ 120,60
(€ 105,60 for members)
0% up to € 10.000, 7% above
Triodos BankGirokonto€ 5,50€ 15€ 816,45%
UmweltBankNo offer
As of March 2021

 

The GLS fee mentioned in the table is a contribution that every GLS customer has to pay per month, regardless of which and how many products of the bank are used. As a cooperative bank, GLS offers the opportunity to acquire cooperative shares. This turns you from a customer into a member, so you can take advantage of benefits such as annual dividends and participation. In addition, debit and credit cards are free for GLS members.

Call money

BankProductMonthly base priceInterest rate p.a. (variable)
EthikBankZinskonto€ 3,500%
-0,4% from € 100.000
GLS BankTagesgeldkonto€ 00%
0,5% deposit fee from € 250.000
Triodos BankTagesgeld€ 00,01%
-0,5% from € 100.000
UmweltBankUmweltFlexkonto€ 00,25%
0% from € 5.000
0,5% deposit fee from € 100.000 (from April 2021)
As of March 2021

 

Fixed deposit / savings bond

Bank Product Running time Notice period Minimum amount Interest rate (fixed, p.a., depending on the term)
EthikBank Mäusekonto 1, 3 or 5 years 3 months (3 o. 5 years) € 2.5000%
Sparbrief1 to 10 yearsfixed term
GLS Bank Sparbrief 3, 5 or 7 years fixed term € 1.000 0% to 0,2%
Triodos Bank Festzins up to 10 years, freely selectable fixed term € 500 0,05% to 0,4%
UmweltBank UmweltFestzins 1 to 20 years fixed term € 5.000 0,01% to 0,6%
As of March 2021

 

It can be worthwhile to look for promotions for new customers or young people. For example, the EthikBank offers a current account with climate discount to new customers, where the account management costs only € 2 per month in the first year. Debit card (girocard) and credit card as well as online banking are free of charge during this period.

Of course, the banks also have other products on offer, e.g. savings plans or funds. You can find a more detailed comparison on the pages of the consumer advice center Bremen.

My personal experience with sustainable banks

After I learned that my long-standing bank had made investments and business with my money that were diametrically opposed to my values and goals, I switched to a sustainable bank in autumn 2019. After an in-depth comparison of banks (see above), I finally decided on a current account and a call money account at Triodos Bank.

At the same time, I opened a fixed-term deposit account with UmweltBank. Since the fixed-term deposit is just resting there and is only increasing very slowly in view of the usual low interest rates, I can’t say much about the UmweltBank – except that communication always went smoothly and the statutory deposit insurance – as with all banks mentioned here – is given, of course.

Account switching

I have a lot more to do with Triodos in everyday life. At first, of course, I first had to inform all possible institutions (employers, insurance companies, mobile phone providers, energy providers, tax authorities, Deutsche Bahn, etc.) about my new bank details. Triodos does offer a account switching service, but it didn’t work properly for me – but that could also have been due to the portal of my old bank. In any case, the institutions to which I had issued direct debit mandates could not be determined automatically. So I did everything manually – but it didn’t matter, and so I at least had the certainty that everything had been converted correctly. At many institutions I was able to change my bank details right away in the user portal, in other cases a short email was sufficient. I only had to send letters in a few exceptional cases.

In the first six months I didn’t have to pay a basic fee for my current account and got an annual subscription to the magazine “enorm” for free. 🙂 So – as I said – it is best to keep an eye out whether the bank of your choice might also have such offers for new customers.

Online banking

I do online banking exclusively with my notebook. The web interface is simple but functional. Mobile TANs are used for authentication. It is a bit annoying that after a very short period of inactivity you are automatically logged out due to a timeout – but well, security is king. 😉

Alternatively, online banking can also be operated via an app, but I haven’t had any experience with it yet.

Debit and credit cards

Triodos offers a debit card (giro card / EC card, € 15 p.a.) and a credit card (Mastercard, € 39 p.a.) for purchases and cash supply. At first I thought I would need both – the EC card for shopping and the Mastercard for withdrawing cash. But since you can now pay by credit card in practically all supermarkets and many other shops, I ended up doing without the EC card completely – and haven’t regretted it to this day. I have never had the problem that the credit card was not accepted. NFC is possible, as are internet payments, of course.

Sustainable banks: Triodos credit card

You can get cash with the credit card at almost all ATMs, sometimes free of charge (e.g. at Volksbanken), sometimes with a fee. Whenever a fee was charged, I always canceled the process and looked for another machine. 🙂

It should also be mentioned that the credit card is made from a renewable raw material. The look and feel is the same as with normal plastic cards, but the card seems to be a little more sensitive to friction. Anyway, after a few months there were abrasions on the magnetic stripe. Triodos immediately sent me a new credit card upon request. But I haven’t even put it into operation because the old one – despite the scratches – still works.

Conclusion

It is a very good feeling to know that your own money is not used for climate- or environmentally damaging projects (or for arms deals, animal experiments or whatever). I can therefore recommend switching to a sustainable bank without reservation – the switching effort is manageable and you then have the same functionality as before. However, there are no free current accounts with sustainable banks, but to me, the good conscience is definitely more than worth the monthly fee.

If many people were to switch to a sustainable bank, this could perhaps finally force the traditional commercial banks to undertake the urgently needed divesting. At some point they will have to realize that investments in fossil fuel projects have no future in the medium term and are therefore highly risky. Hopefully it will not be too late for our planet by then.

So remember: it’s in your own hands, and every euro is a ballot!

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