In this guest blog, Sienna Sexton from the Switch campaign explains how a group of students from Cambridge are hoping to change the world by changing the way we bank.
Since the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015, 35 banks have invested $2.7 billion in fossil fuels. Despite signing up for voluntary environmental standards, banks are some of the biggest funders of fossil fuels, pouring money into new and existing fossil fuel extraction. British banks are in the top 10 of the biggest investors in fossil fuels internationally, they continue to invest in aggressive fossil fuel extraction methods such as tar sands and have underwritten loans to fund pipelines such as the Keystone Pipeline which do not merely harm the planet, but vulnerable indigenous groups. Moreover, many of the banks we find on our high streets have been tied to unethical industries from modern slavery and pornography, to the arms trade.
However, the tide is turning. There is a growing global movement of individuals and institutions choosing to divest (dis-invest) their money from companies and institutions that are funding fossil fuel extraction and choosing to reinvest their money in banks and companies that are protecting people and planet. Internationally, an astonishing $9.9tn has been committed to divestment, of which $5.2 billion comes from 58,000 individuals divesting. In the UK, thanks to student campaigns, over half of the UK’s 154 universities have committed to divest, amounting to £15 billion divested from fossil fuels. The progress being made is incredibly promising, and yet there is more to be done.
There is a historical case for ethical banking, Boycott Barclays was an anti-apartheid student campaign that called on students to move their account from Barclays which was financing the apartheid regime. By forcing Barclay’s hand, the campaign was influential in taking down the apartheid regime by heaping financial pressure on the regime. Given the seriousness of climate change, ethical banking is necessary to avoid ecological disaster. The case for ethical banks is that when we put our money in our banks, it does not just sit there, but can be invested in any way, anywhere across the world. Most of Britain’s high street banks invest millions in the fossil fuel industry, and so giving people the information so that they can invest their money in ways that align with their values and with a future that they believe in is vital. However, there are a growing number of banks that are committed to investing in ways that put people and planet first. By moving our money and telling companies and banks why we do not just challenge the reputations of the institutions, but can invest in a greener, more just future.
The Switch Campaign is a student ethical banking campaign that was founded by a group of friends at Cambridge University in 2019. We were all convinced of the need to tackle climate change and were all committed to reducing our individual impact on the environment. While we were aware of an ongoing divestment campaign to get the university to divest its endowment, we were shocked to learn that we too were investing in climate change as the money in our banks was bankrolling climate change. At the time I learnt this I was the environmental officer for Just Love Cambridge so the fact that this came as a surprise to me indicated that there was a serious information gap in regard to ethical finance for students, and so The Switch Campaign was born.
The Switch Campaign exists to raise awareness about banking and facilitate students moving bank. For me and The Switch team, we know that as Christians God commissions us to care for His creation and His people, and sadly climate change has negative impacts on both. Also we are personally responsible for being good stewards of all that we have been given, including our voices and our money (or arguably God’s money). As consumers we have the power to choose where we invest our resources, and we have power to influence systems and institutions.
If this is the first time that you have thought about ethical banking, we recommend you check out resources from https://switchit.money/#joinUs and follow us on social media for more information. Switching bank is not hard, indeed using the current account switch takes no more than 30 minutes. Fundamentally ethical banking is about enabling individuals and communities to use all their resources (including those in banks) in ways that align with their values and that protect the planet and its people.