Top 5 ethical bank accounts for 2020

by 27 Jan, 2020

Ethical bank accounts are some of the most powerful tools any of us can use to to change the world for the better. Besides being the repeat architects of global financial crises, big banks are also the chief funders of fossil fuel – as is increasingly being shown by organisations including Banktrack and Greenpeace.

UK bank Barclays ranks right up there as the world’s fifth biggest investor in dirty energy. Since the Paris Climate Accord was signed in 2015, Greenpeace says Barclays has poured $85.2 billion into the fossil fuel sector. This contributes to a $1.9 trillion haul injected into fossil fuel by 33 of the world’s largest banks.

Such big numbers can often feel very far away from our more modest monthly salaries. However, banks run on our money and so even those few pounds running through our accounts contribute to their fire power. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. To help you make sure your money matches your values, we’ve compiled a list of the UK’s top 5 ethical bank accounts.

1. Triodos

Leading the ethical bank pack by a country mile is Triodos. Established in 1980 in the Netherlands, Triodos ploughs its profits back into local communities and has invested more than £6 billion in projects that benefit people and planet across Europe. It became a fully fledged UK registered bank last year, which means your savings are covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. It offers a personal, business and charity current account, as well as a range of savings and investment accounts. The personal current account has a monthly fee of £3, which means Triodos doesn’t have to charge extortionate overdraft fees to keep accounts ‘free’, like the big banks do.

2. Ecology Building Society

Ecology is another truly green financier. It does not offer a current account, but it is the UK’s only dedicated green mortgage provider. This means it loans money to those looking to make green improvements on their home or to build an environmentally friendly house from scratch. It also has a range of savings accounts: an easy access paying 0.85% gross interest per year; an ISA paying 1.1%; a 90 day notice account paying a variable interest rate of 1.00% to 1.45% and a regular savings account paying 1.75% a year. All have a minimum investment of £25 while withdrawal terms vary.

3. Nationwide

It’s very important not to make the perfect the enemy of the good when it comes to looking for ethical bank accounts. Nationwide is one such example. Whole not boasting the ethical or green credentials of Triodos or Ecology, Nationwide is one of the UK’s most established building societies. This means that, unlike a bank, it is not listed on the stock market and accountable to shareholders. Instead, it is accountable to its members – i.e. you and me. It has a fairly clean record in terms of corruption and doesn’t even register on the fossil fuel investment mega-scale. It also has a wide range of current and savings accounts. In other words, you could do a whole bunch worse.

4. The Co-Op Bank

The ethical banking sector took a huge hit when the Co-Op Bank suffered it’s ‘crystal methodist’ scandal back in 2013, followed by its sale to US hedge funds. Despite this, though, the Co-Op remains a good choice among the more mainstream highstreet providers. It has a solid ethical policy that it proves adherence to in a thorough annual report, while it remains one of Ethical Consumer’s top choices for better bank accounts. Like Nationwide, it also doesn’t even tip the needle on fossil fuel investment. It’s hedge fund owners muddy the waters a little, with holdings in areas including airlines and crude oil transportation. Compared to Barclays, though….

5. Monzo and Starling

App-based banks are the fastest growing area of finance today, with a 2018 report showing that that online banking has now overtaken visiting bank branches – where only a third of transactions happen. Two top challengers in this area are Monzo and Starling. Monzo offers personal accounts while Starling offers both a personal and business account. Neither of these banks is particularly ‘ethical’ (certainly not in the Triodos sense). However, both do pride themselves on transparency and strong customer service, while neither is beset by the legacy issues of the banking behemoths. They are also both very user friendly and hugely popular with the younger crowd.

And the no-so ethical banks…

Barclays

Is the world’s fifth biggest funder of fossil fuels; was hammered for rigging the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) in 2012; also the gold in 2014, oh and also the former CEO trying to expose a whistleblower in 2016…. Basically just Google ‘FCA fines Barclays’ and you’ll see.

HSBC

Is the world’s 13th biggest funder of fossil fuels according to Banktrack – with a particular penchant for coal expansion in South East Asia; it laundered money for Mexican and Colombian drug cartels and is big on tax evasion in Switzerland.

RBS

The financial crisis. And we ain’t never getting that money back, folks. Also LIBOR. Oh, and also the world’s 33rd biggest funder of fossil fuels.

 

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About the author

About the author

Rebecca Jones

A financial journalist and communications consultant for nearly a decade, Rebecca has worked across national media, b2b, charities and for the UK’s most established sustainable investment team.