TTL steering group member Julia Waterlow explains how she’s been organising her personal finances to support her goals for a greener, more sustainable world.
There’s a lot of talk about building back better and supporting a green recovery right now. In this respect, what we each do with our banking, savings and investments is critical.
No matter how small the individual amounts, our money collectively drives the economy and influences its future direction. Mainstream banks and investment companies continue to thrive because of people’s lack of knowledge, inertia and reluctance to change.
But with just a bit effort, I’ve found it’s possible to put your money somewhere that matches with your values – and where it can actually do some good in the world.
It took me many years to switch my bank account. I had been with NatWest since I was a teenager and as well as the usual “I’ll look at it next week when I have more time”, I had the common concerns about changing accounts: how safe is switching, would all my standing orders/direct debits have to be reinstalled, would a different provider still have a local branch?
When I decided to switch two years ago, I looked at moving to the Co-op and Nationwide. But just at the right moment, ethical bank Triodos, which had previously just offered a savings account, launched a current account so I moved to them.
At the time, Co-op Banking was a bit clunky and not as slick as other banks. Plus, although better than most, neither the Co-op or Nationwide were as careful about their investment strategy as Triodos.
Triodos have no high-street branches but their telephone service is excellent and responsive. The switch was seamless under the guarantee between UK banks to facilitate easy switching and I had to do nothing apart from filling in a brief application form. Triodos have a good mobile app, good security and the money they hold for you is ONLY used for ethical purposes. It costs £3 a month but seriously, that is just over 70p a week, and I think it’s well worth it for a good service that you know is robustly ethical.
When I worked, I was self-employed and never set up a pension. Instead I’ve had a variety of different savings, some in bank accounts, a few shares and money in a couple of investment funds, trying to play it safe by spreading my money around.
For some years I have used a Triodos savings account, although the interest rate has never been comparable to what I could get elsewhere e.g. 1% when I could get 2% with offers from the likes of Virgin. Friends have recommended the Ecology Building Society, which has similarly low rates. I have also had a bit of money in the East Sussex Credit Union which has paid almost no interest but my money is safe and helps fund loans to those who would otherwise struggle financially.
Investing in solar power
The big change for me was when Ovesco, the community energy company started by Transition Town Lewes, launched its first community share offer, inviting local people to help fund the installation of solar power on the roof of Harvey’s Brewery warehouse in return for an investment return.
This seemed the perfect investment for me – supporting local renewable energy AND receiving a 4% return! (Read more in our article on supporting Ovesco here). This also led to me to explore two platforms that specialise in connecting savers and investors to ethical investment opportunities: Ethex and Abundance Investment.
Through these two platforms, I have now moved money into several renewable energy schemes and to fund the new HISBE supermarket in Worthing. There is now quite a variety of ethical investments through Ethex and Abundance, not just renewable energy schemes but also social housing, car share schemes and other community projects.
The downside with these investments is that most are not easy to cash in or sell so they are not for anyone who needs to get at their capital quickly. They are also not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, which protects investors when authorised financial services firms fail. But with many of these schemes, you can just invest a small amount and know you are doing something positive with your money. The returns on most of these are good, around 5%.
Saving our money, saving the world
It seems to me that the best way forward is for us to use our savings either to invest in our community or in a wider set of ethical investments. If you have lots of money, it may matter a lot to you whether the interest rate is 0.5% or 2%. But for most people the difference in actual returns is very little and your money can do so much more good than if it’s left with mainstream banks and investments, many of which fund fossil-fuel and exploitative businesses.
Build Back Better have a couple of webinars that talk about the ways everyday people can help to fund organisations that are having a positive environmental and social impact while also earning a potentially attractive return:
Greening your finances webinar:
Community Investing webinar:
What ethical and sustainable places have you found for your savings? Tell us in the comments below.