Banks in the headlines again, and the headlines are critical, not just in the U.S. The Royal Bank of Scotland reports a loss of 3.6 billion pounds, but gives out 1.3 billion pounds in bonuses. The recent credit crisis has made people acutely aware that much of the control over their money is out of their hands. Where does my money go after I deposit it in my savings account? What is it doing in the world?
In August I met Kristoffer Luhti, an executive of Ekobanken Sweden. Lühti addressed the Sustainable Sweden tour at the Steiner Seminar, Järna, Sweden. Ekobanken grew from a foundation, doing what foundations do: granting funds for organizations to do good in society. It also grew from questions. Is there a difference between money that is earned, or borrowed, or given? What more good can be done? Loans create the future; what kind of future do we want?
With those intentions, Gemeinnützige Treuhandstelle began in Germany in 1974, which inspired some people in Sweden to start a similar fund in Sweden in 1980. The bank, which started its business in 1998, is member driven. Becoming a customer allows one to choose different accounts and interest levels, similar to what I am familiar with in the United States. But the kinds of accounts are quite different. Members can influence where their money goes based on the account they designate. If I were a member, I would be able to choose between ecological, health care, children/youth or culture accounts for my deposits. This deposit money is then made available to those different sectors promoting community development.
And transparency is BIG to them. As part of the loan application process, the staff is required to ask if the bank will be able to publicize their involvement, if they want to be associated with the project. They ask, what the project will do to build the community, beyond the economy or a job count.
I began to wonder, what is the current definition of profit within my banking system? I’m going to guess that it is simply stockholder return. What if we expanded the definition of profit to include healthier people, healthier economy, healthier environment? What if I could find out what my money cultivated in my community? What if I could learn about what good is being done? What if my bank could help me create the future I wanted for my community? How does my bank think they know that now? Isn’t it my money?
What do you know about financial systems that create community?