Investing in Woo

I left the Halifax building society over two years ago, when they refused to admit that a problem with their online banking service was anything to do with them (“ask your Internet Service Provider for help”). They had also been taken over by HSBC and I’ve always tried to stay clear of high street banks.

I slowly moved over to the Alliance and Leicester, one of the few remaining independent building societies. All was well until Santander swallowed it up. Could I be bothered to move again and where to?

Then, the Move Your Money  campaign appeared. I read it and went through its list of alternatives.

Credit Unions for the most part don’t have full banking facilities and are best used for savings. Thames Bank Credit Union  is our nearest and provides a good services for savings. It pays no interest but has offered a 1-2% over recent years to the stakeholders.

There are still some building societies left. Nationwide is one of the biggest, but it feels too much like a bank to me. Many of them don’t provide the necessary facilities.

So I turned to the Co-Op which I rejected last time I looked at this because I did not like their Investment policy which has since changed. While not perfect, their ethical policy knocks socks off everybody else’s.

Job done? Not quite. I thought, as I was moving everything once I’d spread the load a bit, investing some savings in a small building society accessibly only via post but with a good rate of interest (which I subsequently noticed is owned by Nationwide…) and Triodos Bank, recommended by Move Your Money. According to the latter

Triodos’ “mission is to make money work for positive social, environmental and cultural change. For this reason, they only lend money to people and organisations making a positive impact – culturally, socially and environmentally.”

Super, what’s not to like about it? Added to which 2.5% over first 12 months lowering to 1.5% put them well above most accessible saving accounts.Savings moved in to Triodos.

I followed the link and read Quackometer’s article on the bank The Bank That Likes To Say Quack, which dredges out from the Articles of Association that it is

“associated with anthroposophy, this being the humanities science initiated by Rudolf Steiner that accordingly forms an important basis for the work of Triodos Bank.”

Now, go ahead and look up Steiner if you don’t know him (or read the above mentioned article!). He was a quack and a nut developing his own education system and alternative medicine hogwash. Triodos continues to invest in Steiner schools and natural health care. Woo, either way.

I emailed Move Your Money to ask for their thoughts. Their answer was quite succinct with two main points:

(1) They’re still fairly ethical in comparison to others (true but…)

(2) Where else are you going to bank?

Friends of the Earth, like Amnesty will receive £40 for each account you open with Triodos and therefore promote the bank to its members. I emailed my concerns to Amnesty who didn’t deign to reply.

Charity Bank LogoAs to (2) well going back to Move Your Money it suggests Charity Bank for savings which offer a whopping 0.6%. They have a pdf in which they list all charities they are currently helping, without any woo in sight. I emailed them and their prompt response follows:

Charity Bank lends to a wide cross-section of charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups. The bank is prepared to accept applications for loans from any such charitable organisation, and our decision to lend would be based on a number of factors, including our perception of social benefit.

We don’t have any specific lending policy for charities engaged in alternative education or medicine. Decisions are taken on a case by case basis. For example an application for a loan from a private, fee paying boarding school was refused on the grounds that in the bank’s view there was insufficient public benefit, notwithstanding that the school was a registered charity.

Who else is there? Well, the Co-operative is the only other real ethical choice I can see. They offer a Smart Saver with 0.25% interest (Oooh!) and 1.75% on a linked Britannia saver if you make 4 withdrawals or less a year.

So that’s really your choice: 0.6% for the seemingly most ethical bank rising up to 2.5% for Triodos or 1.75% with the Co-operative. Charity Bank offer savings accounts with monthly, quarterly or annual notice so it isn’t anytime access. Bearing in mind the interest on £,2000 amounts to a £40 difference between Charity Bank and Triodos I’ll move to Charity Bank, call the £40 a charitable donation and keep my conscience clear.

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