Tag Archives: Banking

The internet belongs to all of us! Preserving net neutrality and the information commons

The internet belongs to all of us! Preserving net neutrality and the information commons

By Emma Guttman-Slater | LinkedIn and Symone Jackson | LinkedIn

Emma is the Strategic Communications Director and Symone is the Social Media and Digital Engagement Manager for Beneficial State Foundation, both based in Oakland, CA.

In two days, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote to repeal net neutrality, a 2015 ruling that enacted oversight of internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast and Verizon on the principle that they should treat all content on the internet equally.

If right now the internet is a “place where the lowest income user has the same access to unfiltered information as the wealthiest, and where individuals can successfully compete with multibillion dollar corporations”… Imagine the opposite.

A place where you have to “pay to play.” A place where the wealthy get high-speed internet access, while low-income families are confined to the slow lane, and our country becomes one where people must pay for access to information, entertainment, and the social and political capital that comes with expanding one’s network and connecting with other people. It’s not hard to imagine: We’re already seen this type of censorship in net neutrality violations where, for example, companies have censored text messages sent to reproductive rights activists who signed up to receive alerts.

Fair internet access is essential for shared prosperity.

The internet, whose development in the US was funded by the American public (the Department of Defense) is a public good, like electricity and broadcasting. We think about this in the context of banking, which can be viewed as quasi-public because of the privileges we the public have bestowed upon the banking system. Consider the FDIC: Federal deposit insurance set up by the government that makes it possible for someone to run a bank and hold your and my cash deposits.

Without limits, the financial institutions and ISPs serving us these public goods can harm citizens. During the financial crisis, we saw what happens when banks operate unchecked. And still, it’s not difficult to envision a future where access to services and information is in the hands of corporations, not the people, and the people have to pay those corporations to get access to free and available information. Getting rid of net neutrality might widen our already increasing economic inequality gap and would leave consumers unprotected. Not only would those with lower incomes be adversely affected by increased costs, but people of color also stand to be disproportionately disadvantaged — including their ability to make their voices heard on the internet — by the loss of the rule. Repealing net neutrality rules would also have significant impacts on health outcomes in rural communities where people rely on telehealth services, and in LGBTQ communities where young people often must turn to the internet to access health education resources.

A thriving economy is one in which everyone who desires to participate has the option to do so, and everyone has equal access and choice. A strong public utility backbone, which includes fair internet access, is essential for shared prosperity that comes out of full participation.

Image obtained from: https://imgur.com/gallery/zfxwB

It’s true that California, as an example, has innovation and prosperity a-plenty — the state has some of the richest zip codes in the country! Yet almost 20 percent of Californians live at or close to the poverty line. Prosperity is not shared. By establishing a pay-to-play internet, it’s clear who will win and who will lose.

We already know trickle-down economics doesn’t work. Earlier this month we saw a tax bill pass that will leave America’s wealthiest as the winners, at the expense of low and middle income communities. When the national debt balloons, we’ll hear the GOP’s call to cut costs to social services and healthcare to make up for it, further undermining low and middle income families’ chances at getting ahead. Privileging corporations and wealthy people does not foster economic opportunity; it leaves huge swaths of our country high and dry. This kind of increasing inequality is not only an affront to our sense of justice and fairness, but also to our democracy — everyone’s ability to access opportunity and to participate.

If you’ve been following the net neutrality debate, you’ve probably heard that 30 percent of Americans don’t have a choice when it comes to their ISP. Thirty seven percent can choose between only two. Without net neutrality disallowing filtered data lanes, huge chunks of the population stand to lose at the whims of these corporate ISPs.

Do you trust that your internet provider will put your interest above its own?

We also have to look at who has access right now. The rural-urban digital gap is stark: While 96 percent of urban Americans have access to broadband service, 39 percent of rural Americans lack access. There is also a gap within America’s major cities: In Detroit, for example, 40 percent of the population does not have any internet access. “Because of high foreclosure rates, and because of bad credit, a lot of telecom companies don’t offer good service within these areas, or they won’t even turn on their fibers so we have a lot of dark fiber that doesn’t have internet running though it throughout the city,” says Diana Nucera, director of the Detroit Community Technology Project. Luckily, community-based organizations are working locally to address this need by installing high speed internet systems in the homes of Detroiters who have not had internet access. Still Detroit is a prime example of what happens when consumers are left unprotected from entities that are supposed to serve their needs.

Christopher Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance explains that without net neutrality rules, major ISPs will be able to extract more money from their existing customer base, providing less of an incentive to expand their customer base into those areas lacking internet access now. The prediction makes sense: With even fewer rules, why should we expect to see investment into rural communities, which already face disinvestment? Mitchell says areas without access need rules to protect them. If there’s no hope for competition, there’s no hope for a marketplace to regulate behavior.

Without net neutrality, we are beholden to corporations whose primary interest is profit. These companies will further entrench their position as  “gatekeepers to the internet.” To paraphrase Mignon Clyburn at the FCC: Do you unequivocally trust that your internet provider will put your interest above its own?

Exactly.

So, what can you do?

  • Keep net neutrality in place.  Take action at battleforthenet.com
  • Invest directly into low- and middle-income communities, with their needs and economic and racial equity in mind. Think of all the untapped innovation and abundance in these communities, often out of reach because of severe unequal access to basic services. That might look like banking local, supporting local business, and investing your time and energy into power-building within these communities.
  • Look to the communities that are making it work with place-based solutions, cooperative solutions. There are more than 350 organizations across the US where cooperatives are currently delivering fiber to the people.

This blog post reflects the author’s personal views and opinions, and does not represent the views and opinions of Beneficial State Bank and/or Beneficial State Foundation.

How do I know if my bank is good?

How do I know if my bank is good?

By Jhana Valentine | LinkedIn

Jhana is Beneficial State Foundation’s Social and Environmental Impact Associate based in Oakland, CA.

“How do I know if my bank is good?”

When I was first asked this question, I was surprised and a little embarrassed that I didn’t have an answer. At the time, I’d started an internship at Beneficial State Foundation and experienced how easy it was to move my money into a community bank. I was energized to see the Defund DAPL movement gaining momentum. I was trying to convince my best friend that not all banks were bad and that many banks and credit unions actually do a lot of good in their communities so she should move her money to one of them. I didn’t have a name for it at the time, but I was encouraging her to join the Banking on Values movement.

The Banking on Values movement, led by the Global Alliance for Banking on Values, aims to positively change the banking sector by influencing the ways in which banks and other financial institutions serve human needs, our environment, and the real economy. Consumers can engage in the Banking on Values Movement by encouraging their bank to adopt values-based banking principles or by moving their money to bank that already does.

My best friend was pressing me, as she often does, to get to the heart of the matter: “Are there principles or practices that distinguish a good bank? How do I know if my bank is upholding these principles? How do I know that my bank isn’t funding projects I don’t support, like the Dakota Access Pipeline?”

The Banking on Values movement reminds us that our deposit dollars don’t disappear into a black box

Underlying the over-simplified binary of “good” and “bad” banks are our values.  I value fairness and equity.  So when I hear about a bank charging people of color higher interest rates than white people, that goes against my values and I don’t want my money to support those practices. When I learn that my bank actively supports projects that preserve and develop affordable housing, I feel proud to bank with an institution that aligns with my values.

The Banking on Values movement reminds us that our deposit dollars don’t disappear into a black box. That money is recirculated in the economy, either by investing in the people and products we see in the real economy, or participating in the financial economy of stocks, securities, and speculation. Values-based banks demonstrate that a bank can generate positive social and environmental impact and remain financially sustainable by making loans directly into the real economy.

In my role I track and measure the impact metrics of Beneficial State Bank, a values-based bank.  We look at numerous social and environmental indicators of our bank’s loans, from the number of kilowatt hours produced by clean energy projects to the number of small and local businesses that have distributed ownership models, such as cooperatives. This work has given me an in-depth understanding of how good banking can be translated into concrete indicators, policies, and practices that can help any one of us determine if our bank is aligned with our values.

I often think back to my friend’s questions because they remind me that the impact metrics I’m collecting can help a consumer make an informed decision about where they bank. My hope is that one day all banks measure and publish not only their financial indicators of success, but also their social and environmental impact metrics. Drawing upon the work of the Global Alliance of Banking on Values members, who are working together to develop best practices for impact measurement, I’m now much more equipped to answer my friend’s questions with concrete examples.

Here are some principles and practices that distinguish a “good” bank:

To determine if your bank is upholding these principles and practices, you might have to do some digging:

  1. Read through your bank’s website. Do they share a mission and vision that resonates with you? Do they provide concrete examples of how they are living up to this mission? Do they publish information about what they’re not supporting, such as private prisons and pipelines?
  2. Talk to your banker. How is the bank involved in the community? Do they have special products or pricing that serve communities that have historically been left out of the banking system?
  3. Check their certifications and associations. If your bank is a certified Community Development Financial Institution, Community Development Credit Union, or certified B Corporation, or a participant in the Global Alliance of Banking on Values or Community Development Bankers Association, there’s a good chance they’re a values-based bank.

Thanks to dedicated organizations, you can check if your bank is funding certain projects that have negative social and environmental impacts:

  1. Food and Water Watch will tell you if your bank has funded the Dakota Access Pipeline.
  2. Rainforest Action Network will tell you if your bank is funding activities that directly contribute to climate change.

For me, values are at the heart of the matter, whether I’m picking out food at the grocery store, deciding how to spend my free time, or putting my money into a bank or investment vehicle. I know that we all have a unique blend of values, but I think there are as many similarities among people as there are differences. I think many of you would agree that you don’t want your money working against you. And so, if you only saw your bank’s purely financial statements, that information alone wouldn’t convince you that your bank is good. I think you’d want more comprehensive information. The Banking on Values movement has inspired me to consider us all as stakeholders of the banking industry. As a depositor stakeholder, I want my bank, which holds my money, to support the communities and ecosystems that sustain, nourish and make my life beautiful. What do you want from your bank?

For more tips on how to find a values-aligned bank near you, check out our Move Your Money toolkit.

This blog post reflects the author’s personal views and opinions, and does not represent the views and opinions of Beneficial State Bank and/or Beneficial State Foundation.

Why you should care about Dodd-Frank

Why you should care about Dodd-Frank

By Fiona Ruddy | LinkedIn

Fiona participated in Beneficial State Foundation’s 2017 Summer Fellowship as the Movement Building, Policy & Strategic Communications Fellow.

Last week I was on a walk discussing my fellowship at Beneficial State Foundation with a friend who is starting a PhD program. I began rattling off findings from my research on financial injustice, offering my opinion on how to support divestment movements, and extoling my love for the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

Amid this extremely nerdy conversation, I was shocked to find out my pal (who is deeply interested in equity and justice) had no idea what Dodd-Frank was.

(more…)

Oakland Indie Awards Vendor

A better bank is possible

A better bank is possible

“The power of storytelling is exactly this: to bridge the gaps where everything else has crumbled.” – Paulo Coelho

For the past ten years, Beneficial State has shown that a different type of bank—a beneficial bank—is possible. Our bank, through its unique model, produces meaningful social justice and environmental impacts, while remaining financially sustainable.

With $640 million in loans out in the community and more than 200 employees across three states, our efforts to share the impact of Beneficial Banking on our communities and planet are gaining traction–the Beneficial Banking movement is growing thanks to you who are aligning your money with your values and demanding better from the financial institutions intended to serve you. Collectively, we will transform the banking system to one that not only works for everyone, but to one that actually creates a just and inclusive society for all.

Collectively, we will transform the banking system to one that not only works for everyone, but to one that actually creates a just and inclusive society for all.

So, what separates Beneficial State from other banks?

For one, our triple bottom line, which doesn’t require our banks’ interests to be at odds with those of our customers–we’re working in collaboration with our customers and allies to heal our communities and our planet. Like Chapter 510, a youth literacy center in Oakland. And Patty Pan Cooperative, a worker-owned co-op farmer’s market stall and food catering service.  And Kirsop Farm, which grows and sells organic produce contributing to western Washington’s local food security and cultural identity.

For another, the bank’s economic interest is owned by a nonprofit foundation (Beneficial State Foundation), so we have zero private shareholders who might seek to maximize profit at the expense of our communities and planet.

And there’s our lending practice: we commit at least 75% of our loans to the new economy – and the remainder cannot work against our mission. And we’re totally transparency. You can read all about our lending and business practices here.

How do alternative bank models like this affect social change? What will it take to change the banking system for good? How can businesses and financial institutions work together to build an economy that is inclusive and equitable for all? In what ways can innovative financial products and services be used to combat social inequalities? What does “business for good” even mean?! These are just a few of the questions we’ll explore in our blog.

We invite you to join the conversation and share your thoughts as we highlight innovative solutions, share stories about social changemakers, and pose questions that will encourage you to think about the power of your dollars and how you can leverage that power to build a better world.