Vince Siciliano, New Resource Bank (USA): Positive Money…
Do you know where your money spends the night?
We’ve been asking that question in a variety of venues, and it typically produces a strong and visible response of intrigued uneasiness. Many people are familiar with the concept of socially responsible investing applied to stocks and mutual funds. Far fewer think of it in terms of their bank deposit accounts, but these accounts also are funding business activities that you may—or may not—support.
The focus of the question about where your money spends the night is on the fact that deposited funds are lent out to advance all kinds of activities and operations; they do not just sit in a bank vault somewhere. At the largest banks, savings, checking, money market and CD accounts support not only some local businesses, but also many dirty energy operations, environmentally unfriendly development projects, toxic industrial operations and other unsustainable business ventures.
Money Is A Store Of Value—And Values
Money represents our stake in the economic system. It represents who we are as economic beings. If you think about it like that, is your money something that’s divorced from the rest of your being, or is it one kind of expression of who you are, along with being a citizen, having a family and other aspects of identity? Can you split off one part of yourself and treat it in an isolated, valueless way? Our society often asks us to do this with our money.
The economic world tends to follow a set of rules that are sterile and without values. But why would we have values at home and not have values when we go shopping or decide what to eat—or choose a bank?
We don’t have to acquiesce to this notion of valueless money: it’s a specific cultural perspective, not a law of nature. Is it really true that the “invisible hand” of the marketplace will ensure that our pursuit of only self-interested goals will benefit everyone (or even ourselves)? We can retake control of the conversation and the uses of our money. We can look at the system and say “I want to use my money in a way that promotes a better place to live.” In other words, our money can support what we truly value—strong local economies, a healthy environment, and economic justice, to name a few possibilities.
Money As An Agent For Change
Similarly, we can use money as more than a medium of exchange—it can be an agent for change. To make this happen, we need to see money as part of a relationship between people and organizations. We need to look beyond seeing money as a means of survival (a medium of exchange) and a measure of business success: it can be an agent for expanding community and driving change.
For example, RSF Social Finance (an investor in New Resource) holds pricing meetings where their investors and loan recipients listen to each others’ needs and consider the impact of raising or lowering RSF’s interest rates. This helps foster a sense of community and trust, and it invigorates participants’ commitment to improving the world. Money changing hands is no longer just a one-note, anonymous experience.
Our bank also sees borrowers as part of our community, and the provision of loan funds as the start of a deeper relationship dedicated to positive change. For instance, we give all our clients customized sustainability tool kits geared toward helping them move farther along the sustainability path. It’s part of the way we develop a relationship with our borrowers that enables us to understand, support and expand their vision and their strategy.
Another example: when the Environmental Defense Fund recognized our client Wild Planet for providing the world’s most sustainably caught seafood, our team went to work supporting Wild Planet’s infrastructure expansion and business growth. Our goal was to help Wild Planet become a leading supplier of consumer seafood, and to help it change the way seafood is caught and delivered to the marketplace.
In almost any exchange of money for a product or service, there is a connection that could be formed, then built into a community consciousness. Out of that process comes a broadening of vision that can imbue our otherwise dry, featureless economic activities with a sense of purpose. You get something more and you try to give something more. We begin by saying “I’m acting on my values in the way I spend my money,” and then continue to take the next steps built on relationships formed for a higher purpose. It’s about ongoing involvement that leads to a new perspective on the communal impact of our exchange of money.
Money can have a mission—and when it does, it can be an agent for change. Our financial choices and investment decisions can go beyond the manipulation of economic inputs and risk management to become much more: the purposeful stewardship of assets to achieve a greater good for all of us.
How Deposits Can Contribute To A Better World
At New Resource, promoting a better world is a core part of our lending decisions. Our goal is a loan portfolio invested 100 percent in businesses that are advancing sustainability. We’re not there yet—traditional community bank loans made to local businesses during our start-up phase make up about 40 percent of our current portfolio— but in 2009 we decided to make only mission-related loans. Now all new loan recipients must be businesses that are on a path toward improving their operational sustainability and managing their impact on society and the environment.
It’s not just about good intentions, though: we are lending to businesses we think can succeed and grow and lead.
New Resource has helped award-winning organic food purveyors satisfy rising demand, innovative solar providers make home power systems affordable, and green builders create homes and offices that are models of resource conservation. (Profiles of some of these successful investments in sustainable businesses are on our website at https://www.newresourcebank.com/content/blogcategories/1)
Moving Your Money Matters
Are you proud of what’s being done with your money?
Many people think it doesn’t matter where they bank, or they think they don’t have a real choice in how the use of our money affects the world around us. The truth is there are plenty of choices, but we don’t exercise our ability to choose—because we don’t think about it or the media tells us it doesn’t matter. Our system glorifies choice, but tries
to narrow the choices to ones that promote more of the same rather than a new vision for change.
Do you have a vision for the kind of community and world you would like to live in? Consciously spend and invest your money in ways that promote your vision and values. Move your money to an institution whose mission is to support positive action in the world. It does make a difference—to the economy and to you personally.
New Resource Bank is a founding member of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values, a Green America board member, an American Sustainable Business Council advisory board member, a member of the Green Chamber of Commerce and the Western Independent Bankers, a Certified B Corporation and a San Francisco–certified Green Business.
Opinion Piece courtesy of New Resource Bank.