Informed Banking

Our Choice: A Bank Too-Big-to-Fail or a Local Bank?

When a bank receives our deposit, they hit the “Mute” button on our voice, and the “Amplify” button on their own. Depending on the bank, the energy of our deposit, and therefore our lives, goes into building a better world or destroying this one—regardless of what our own moral values or life-purposes are.

We’ve come to a new moment in Earth’s story. Their model of business no longer fits with Earth’s story. That they defend their model vigorously puts them at odds with the planet. They are not willing to find a new inter-dependence between profit, planet, and all its inhabitants. The planet now matters in a way that was not understood a century ago or even a few decades ago. Their model of growth without limits has now taken the world economy beyond Earth’s capacity. Each year the bio-capacity of Earth is exceeded. In 2009, it happened on September 24.

To avoid the scenario of Earth’s sixth extinction, we need to make choices that withdraw from the economics of we-can-grow-bigger-than-you.

Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, 2001, and professor at Colombia University, was quoted in “The Age” (Australia), June 9, 2009, as saying… “We need to break up the too-big-to-fail banks; there is no evidence that these behemoths deliver societal benefits that are commensurate with the costs they have imposed.”

Dick Durbin, Senator from Illinois, said early in 2009 that the banks own the United States Senate. One of every three dollars in campaign contributions to Senators come from the financial sector, meaning the Wall Street financial institutions.

Can we have a voice in changing banks? Probably. At any rate we can choose to live in a different economy by making conscious choices about which bank we use. We need to better understand…

  • How banks create money.
  • Why the banks spend lots of lobbying money to get Republicans and Democrats to decrease regulation (1980-2005 is a remarkable period!).
  • How low-regulated banks betray depositors and borrowers—instead of providing us security, they have changed clothes and become predators. The biggest de-regulated players do not act according to basic values or commonsense.

Banking and finance take us not only to the heart of economic change but also to the heart of our worship. One of Jesus’ most widely recognized sayings told us that we cannot serve both God and Mammon. They are competing deities. Either we worship the cosmic God or our worship is misdirected to economic powers. Obviously, then, the drama runs strong when we engage the financial institutions of the current, prevailing economy. They are designed to dominate, and they will not voluntarily choose to stop their domination. Yet, dominators stumble under their own arrogance.

Choosing a Bank is a Spiritual Practice

No financial institution has ever had the economic clout that now resides in global banks and other global financial institutions. But their worldview is out of date.

The 2008 failure of the banks and the financial sector is opening many eyes to banking. People are talking back to banks after decades of deferring to them on the mysteries of financial practices and products. But some of the talk-back is more venting frustration at being betrayed than talking points for real change.

We are not powerless in the presence of these major temples of global deference and devotion. Institutions and households of a community have a lot to say about bank behavior IF we will ask, “Is there a bank that will do with our money what we profess and what we are working to create together?” and then act on the best answer!

Choosing a bank is not value-neutral or morally neutral. Banks do things with money according to a set of values. They know that money talks, and they choose which worldview is supported by their use of their portfolio. Large banks are major shapers of the structures that make domination hierarchies happen. They do not practice economic democracy. The smaller the bank, the more local the bank, the greater is the chance that it aligns itself with some of the structures of the partnership paradigm.

Global financial institutions wield enormous influence in the world. They assert great muscle in deciding which paradigm will arrange the lives of all inhabitants and institutions. Their loans finance ecological degradation or ecological sustainability. They can choose to prefer Wall Street to Main Street and country roads.

So, when a bank receives our deposit, they hit the “Mute” button on our voice, and the “Amplify” button on their own. Depending on the bank, the energy of our deposit, and therefore our lives, goes into building a better world or destroying this one—regardless of what our own moral values or life-purposes are. Clearly then, we must not stay blind to these realities of the economic world. Many of us have a different consciousness about life on our planet than the global financial institutions do. The Divine Spirit, astir throughout creation, calls us to different banking choices—one in which our voice is amplified in the actions of our deposits.

What Banking Options do we Really Have?

We can start with banks to avoid. Avoid large banks with global reach and whose philosophy has to do more with their performance in the financial sector of the national and global economy than in serving their local community. If you wonder about a particular bank, a quick check on line of the largest 150 banks is a good start on which ones to avoid. If the bank you are wondering about is there, look for another one. As our consciousness grows about how these banks participate in and advance the paradigm of domination over people and planet, we are breaking up with these banks.

But, if not a large, global bank, then which? We have good choices. Clear choices. Choices that will get the energy of our money out into the world through bank deposits, doing what we believe in.

OneEarth Jubilee recommends three such choices.

  • Locally owned, community banks
  • Credit unions which operate as cooperatives instead of the corporate model
  • Community Development Financial Institutions
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