Many parents such as mine set up savings accounts for their children and encourage us to set aside a small percentage of our gifts. Before I could understand what was happening, my allowances and birthday money were being invested into polluting industries through J.P. Morgan Chase Bank’s asset management. I’m overjoyed to see that The Co-Operative Bank (Co-Op), founded in 1872 and headquartered in the United Kingdom, has had a customer-led Ethical Policy since 1992. The British bank is leading the pack in ethical banking, boasting the most impressive Sustainalytics ESG score in the UK and going carbon neutral since 2007. This is one of the most sustainable banks in the UK, and I feel everyone who can should make the switch.
The Co-Operative Bank offers bank accounts, credit cards, mortgages, savings, loans, and insurance services online and in person. In person services tend to leave a larger environmental impact from their construction to daily utility usage, but Co-op verified that it sources “100% of its electricity from renewables since 2015 and achieved zero waste to landfill in 2020” (Capital Monitor). Offering in person services allows Co-op to make strides in providing free banking to charities, social enterprises, and credit unions and make banking more accessible to the homeless. They provide free financial services to groups such as Just Friends of the Earth, Oxfam, RSPB, Save the Children and the Woodland Trust. Co-op glaringly does not offer metal credit or debit cards, which are better for the planet than plastic. Co-op can improve by offering metal cards at no fee and a secure recycling program for them.
Co-op’s Ethical Policy outlines how the bank will and won’t use their customers’ money, and it has been revised six times on customer feedback since 1992. The current document states that the Co-operative bank will “not provide banking services to any business or organization whose activity contributes to global climate change or the destruction ofEcosystems” through fossil fuel use, deep seabed mining, manufacturing of persistent chemicals, and unsustainable harvest of natural resources.” Co-op also promises they are “committed to respecting human rights in all our business activities, including our provision of banking services, in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights” and will not bank for anyone that “fails to implement basic labour rights as set out in the Fundamental UN ILO Conventions.” I like that their policy is linked to standards described in widely understood, international documents. One of the major problems with ESG reporting and rating is the lack of defined metrics. Most importantly, the list is not complete and Co-op retains discretionary power to withhold services. The only ESG related controversy I could find occured when Co-operative Bank’s Sustainalytics ESG risk rating was not as impressive as expected. The Capital Monitor identifies inadequate and inconsistent disclosure as the culprit. Since then, Co-op has improved their reporting and reduced their ESG risk.
The chief executive officer of the Co-operative Bank, Nick Slape, has given numerous interviews demonstrating his enthusiasm to prove that ethical lending and profit can coexist. The Ethical Policy commits to “paying our colleagues the real living wage, flexible work and leave options, welcoming trade union membership, and a fair recruitment process” among many other promises. In person bank employees’ reviews on Glassdoor are mostly positive and all above 3.5 with some variance between in-person Co-op locations. Great benefits, fair interviewing, and strong recommendations were mentioned. Unfortunately, the transparency ends at this level of Co-op. I found no information on who manufactures Co-op’s credit and debit cards or where the factories are located. I personally have enough trust in the Co-operative bank to believe there is no harm being done in the manufacturing of the cards, and the company has inadequately disclosed before. They can improve by sharing their labor commitments at all levels of their supply chain.