from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

in praise of – yes – a bank!

October 2013 update: in the light of the Co-op bank's buyout (of around 66%, anyway) by sharkier hedge fund banks, I have to revise what I've said below. However, after talking with others concerned, like me, to ensure that our money is not used for unethical purposes (to the extent that we have any choice in our capitalist economy), I'm not sure how many options exist if we want to use plastic and cheques, as opposed to cash and barter.

Until Triodos and Ecology buildings societies offer a current account, the Co-op may still be the best option, and we can be actively involved in demanding that its original values are continued. The Save the Co-op website says this ( hold fire on switching, and 'sign up to our campaign instead; then when we are in our thousands, let's see if they are prepared to listen. We have two aims; to protect the values and ethics of the bank, and – in time – to help it return to mutual ownership.' The campaign is backed by Ethical Consumer: lists banks and rates their performances from many perspectives, and you can choose to filter according to eg honesty, value to economy, ethics and a couple more. On ethics, the Islamic Bank of Britain and the Reliance (Salvation Army) both score high, as do some of the other mainstream banks, though they usually score lower on things like bonuses etc.

Further update, February 2014: the Co-op's ethical policy, integral to the bank since, I believe, its founding in the late C19th, has now been enshrined in their constitution. They still have struggles ahead, they say, but feel that they can make it.


I didn't think I'd find myself writing a blog about – a bank. I'm disinterested in money – always have been, which might be why I don't have much of it. Like many of us, I'm deeply concerned too about the capitalist model, predicated as it is on growth, preferably unlimited growth – an impossibility on our little planet with its finite reserves on which of course we are utterly dependent.

I have learned a little from TM of some of the implications of our current debt-based economy. Did you know that 97% of all money is entirely conceptual, created by debt? I know, it's hard to get one's head around. Earlier this year I wrote a post on this and on not being in debt:, so I won't repeat myself here.

It may be in human nature to try and accumulate, I don't know. But my own hobby horse is that the late Neolithic in Europe heralded capitalism as we know it: that is when we made the transition from a nomadic lifestyle, where we couldn't store food, to the agricultural (and incidentally – or not – militaristic) where we started enclosing land, calling it 'mine' and trying to expand the territory we had taken, and to defend it.

Anyway, that's off-topic, really, because what I actually want to do here, to my own astonishment, is to praise the English Co-operative Bank.

Yes, it's a mainstream bank, with an ordinary chequeing account.

When I was a student, the new intake at my university was bombarded with placards warning of the evils of the then Big Four 'high street' banks, and their involvement in eg arms deals. Having my 'awareness raised' at an impressionable age means that I still feel very strongly about this, and Not in my Name (even with my overdraft!) applies here.

So here is my praise for the overlooked and ethical high street Co-operative Bank. Its policy is to NOT invest in arms, tobacco, the fur trade, projects that involve questionable human rights, multinationals that have a poor environmental track record, animal testing and etc, and it positively supports sustainable projects (its supermarket arm is reasonably ethical too: it's a co-operative, so members share in the benefits; it's against animal testing and exploitation, and only stocks, for instance, free range eggs. It's the only supermarket I ever go into, albeit that only occasionally.) I do all my banking with the Co-op through the local post office, as I live nowhere near a branch. If I phone to do eg a transfer I get a 'real person' immediately, and as a bonus they're friendly. The bank takes a flexible and understanding humane attitude to loans, overdrafts and debts.

Here's what it says about its ethical policy: 'In 1992, after a long consultation with our customers, The Co-operative Bank launched its Ethical Policy – a first amongst UK high street banks and still unique today. The Policy ensures that we will always stand up for the issues that our customers feel passionate about. We allow you to have your say on the issues that matter to you, such as human rights, animal welfare, fair trade and the environment. So simply by being our customer, you're helping us change the world, little by little, every day.

'Since its launch in 1992, The Co-operative Bank has withheld over £1.2 billion of funding from business activities that its customers have said are unethical. Whilst at the same time, increasing commercial lending sixteen fold to almost £9 billion.'

And my current account comes automatically with worldwide family travel insurance, European-wide car breakdown cover, and mobile phone insurance.

If you are at all concerned about what your money is invested in but thought that your only options were non-ethical or building-society-type accounts, then I warmly invite you to try out the Co-op. And I'm not on a commission, by the way.

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