Beneficial State Foundation Perspectives

Our thoughts on changing the banking system for good and building the new economy

The future is in sustainability – bank on it

Brian Wagner is a Portfolio Manager for Beneficial State Bank based in Portland, OR.

In 2016, I decided to make a significant life change. Not typically an impulsive person, I suddenly decided to quit my job in commercial banking in Wisconsin and move to Portland, OR to study sustainability at Portland State University (PSU). I enrolled in a one-year graduate certificate program, which included a broad introduction into various aspects of sustainability. The reason for the change was simple: I didn’t feel like I was making enough of a personal or professional contribution toward making the world a better place. Although I had always been passionate about protecting the environment, my actions were limited to signing online petitions that benefited various environmental causes.

Admittedly, I was a little intimidated to return to school to study a subject in which I had no academic or professional background. To my surprise, the program attracted individuals from many different industries, although I may have been the only banking or finance professional in my cohort. Additionally, I had incorrectly assumed that the program would focus heavily on the environmental science aspect of sustainability. While the courses certainly did contain a fair amount of science, the prevailing theme throughout the program was the complexity of sustainability, and how all aspects of the “system” (government, economy, etc.) influence behavior. By the end of the program, the two most impactful courses for me were Economics of Sustainability and Environmental Sociology. As I progressed through the program, I realized that sustainability is about much more than simply protecting nature and the environment. It’s about equity, justice, and changing the way we look at our economic and financial systems. Our current system encourages mass production and consumption of products, and does little to deter a widening gap between the wealthiest individuals and everyone else. Many of the business and political decisions are short-sighted, focusing on short-term gains to appease financial analysts and shareholders, or achieving certain economic metrics, with little regard for long-term implications.

As I contemplated my employment options following the conclusion of the sustainability graduate certificate program, I considered how to best utilize my experience in banking with what I had learned in the program. While attending classes, I had developed a relationship with employees at Beneficial State Bank and Beneficial State Foundation, the nonprofit which owns the economic rights of the bank. Having previously worked for much larger financial institutions, I was intrigued by this small bank with a unique ownership structure and powerful mission and vision. As a certified B Corp, Beneficial State Bank commits to creating positive change within the banking industry by providing financial services in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner.

In August 2017, I began working for Beneficial State Bank as a Portfolio Manager. My position within the bank allows me to work on accounts that are providing critical support to advancing sustainability initiatives, specifically renewable energy and environmental nonprofit organizations. More than that, I’m proud to work for a certified B Corp organization; one that strives to provide a positive impact on society, its employees, the community, and the environment, instead of solely focusing on making a substantial net profit for shareholders. It’s important for me to work for a mission-driven organization that is providing leadership within the financial services industry, tackling the complexities of sustainability one loan and deposit at a time. The well-being of our communities and the world depends on organizations, large and small, that are dedicated to leading by example. Businesses (especially banks) that are committed to the B Corp model are necessary to achieve larger systems change.

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.