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Going Green [1]: Switching banks

Every #FutureFriday Stefan Meeuws publishes a blog on going green. He has recently become a vegetarian, is switching to a greener bank and in general tries to reduce his impact on the environment. This blog is a personal account of the struggles and benefits he experiences on his quest to go green. He hopes to inspire readers, but also be honest about what it’s actually like to do some of these things.

Banks are evil. Or at least, our banking system is evil. Or at least, institutions that should safeguard our money and help our society grow by investing wisely, are in fact screwing us over and investing in weapons, war and stuff that is destroying our planet. And thus, I’ve decided to switch banks, in the hope that the little money I keep on my accounts is actually invested wisely. Or at least as wisely as possible.

Now, in The Netherlands there’s the “Eerlijke Geldwijzer” (“Fair Money Guide”), a website that scores banks on their investment policy by researching their annual reports and other sources. The guide basically says there are two options for me, Triodos Bank and ASN Bank (part of De Volksbank, which by now has adopted all the policies of its green brand ASN Bank). Both banks do exceptionally well trying to invest their money sensible, at least compared to the competition. The only topic both banks don’t do well on is gender equality, which is hugely important and something I hope they improve upon. But both banks are still much better than the bank I’m currently a customer of, so the decision to make the switch to one of these is easy to make.

Hello Anxiety!

But it’s harder to actually do it, for me at least. In theory, the whole process is made easy because you can simply sign up for a new bank account and then say “please move any contracts and recurring transactions to the new bank account, please”. But in practical, and being kind of a control freak about which companies and institutions get control over my personal data, I’ve decided to do a manual switch at first.

The manual switching involves logging into a lot of companies’ customer area (think: insurances, streaming subscriptions etc.) and changing bank details, double checking them and moving on to the next one. But in several instances it means actually phoning the company, or worse: sending in a written confirmation by old-fashioned mail. I’ve saved those for last… I think I’m at 70–80% of the list of companies that I have to get in touch with. Which sounds pretty good, but in practice means I’m checking my bank balances everyday to make sure there’s enough funds on both checking accounts to see whether I’m paying all the bills I should pay.

Sending money to strangers

The next step is transferring money from one savings account to another, which I think is always a manual process – whether you sign up for the bank’s transfer service or not. This means transferring large (for me) amounts of money from one account to another, which is a whole new kind of anxiety-inducing. What if I transfer it to the wrong account? What happens if I get one number wrong?

But I’m happy to say it’s all gone well, I haven’t lost much sleep over it in the end, and all my savings are now sitting in a greener bank account. So at least that’s done… Now all there’s left is monitor my old account, change any incoming transactions to the new account for the future and then I should finally be able to cancel my old account. And then I can try to make a similar switch for my investments, insurances and possible also my creditcard?

How green is it?

One thing that I noticed during all this? A pretty big paper trail. While the bank I chose sent me all documents (like contracts, terms and conditions etc.) digitally, all personal documents were sent by regular old snail mail (do we still use that term? It has “snail” in it, so that makes it green?). And they’re not just sending everything in one envelope, I got at least 5 envelopes in the space of two weeks. Most of them included vital information and of course one included a bank card (and I do see the sense of sending the associated PIN number in a separate letter), but I’d still say there should be ways to do this all a bit more environmental-friendly. It’s also pretty difficult to remove the plastic “window” stuck to the paper envelopes.

I know this is not the only indicator of how green this decision will turn out to be for me, but at least I can make the mental note of not switching too often… My new debit card is much greener than the old one (at least the colour is) and reading on the website about their investment policies of my savings does make me feel good.

Looking back at the process so far, I’m pretty happy with making the switch and so far I feel pretty comfortable at my new bank, but time will tell if there’s any unexpected developments with my whole banking situation… for now I’m not completely relaxed about it just yet. And I’ve got no clue what kind of impact all this administration and moving of money is going to have on my taxes. I might report back here, if that is the case… although that might make for a rather boring read…

For now, October is – after a month of switching (mostly due to my own anxiety and procastinating) – the month I’m going as green as possible for my bank accounts. I’ve taken the hard road, but to be honest it can be much easier if you’re not as stressed out about it, or simply use the provided tools by your bank to transfer everything. And I guess I’m lucky by not having a mortgage or other financial products that keep me stuck to a certain (non-green) bank. I might report back here once I’ve been able to actually cancel all contracts with my old bank. Because switching bank is only one of the things you can do to #futurefriday your financial things…. Until then, I guess at least that old bank can’t invest most of my money anymore. Which has to count for something, no?

Photo by Alejandro Cartagena on Unsplash

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