Beneficial State Foundation Perspectives

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

Why we need responsible banking commitments — and more

Last fall, the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) announced its launch of the Principles for Responsible Banking (PRBs). Beneficial State Bank joined 130 banks, representing $47 trillion in assets, to become a founding signatory of the PRBs.  

The last thing we need from corporations is more words with no actions. But the PRBs present a unique opportunity for triple-bottom-line banks like Beneficial State Bank to collaborate with mainstream banks to achieve a shared sustainability goal. By doing so, we resist the urge to silo into our typical corners of impact-focused banks vs. Big Banks. This kind of direct intermingling is an important step toward systemic change in a field that needs it.  When unlikely allies question the status quo, culture change happens. Real people trying to make a difference in the world, together with their institutions, shape a new climate of ideas.

We dream big at Beneficial State Foundation: our mission is to change the banking system for good. We contribute to triple-bottom-line banking on national and global levels by helping to inform and develop standards like the PRBs. We want these standards to be as rigorous as possible.  Why? Because we know banks are getting away with too much harm as has been documented extensively 

While the PRBs are a crucial step in the right direction for banks to commit to align their business practices in the public interest to meet society’s needs, to develop products and services that are fair and responsible, and to foster a space for unlikely partnership, they are still just that — principles.

And principles and commitments have not shown to be enough. Consider the $1.9 trillion that global banks have poured into fossil fuels since the Paris Agreement. Banks have signed countless sustainability agreements. And these same banks continue to perpetuate fraud, racial discrimination, labor violations, environmental degradation, predatory lending… you name it.

So we’re taking the PRBs a step further by developing the highest standard of good banking. This comprehensive set of measurable and prescriptive equitable banking standards will help you — the customer — determine whether your bank should change any of its practices to better serve your community. If you’re a financial justice nerd like we are and you want to join the cause, please reach out. We want your input.

We are capable of so much.  Movements following the money are growing. Banks are hearing our demands and making changes. But there’s a long way to real action from a simple commitment. We’re looking at wide-ranging solutions from the highest triple-bottom-line standards, to public banking, to building capacity within the divestment movement — an amazing lever for change. Learn more about how to get involved. Join us as we envision and put into practice what banking and finance should look like, while boosting the power of people in our neighborhoods and communities.  

Emma is Beneficial State Foundation’s Policy Advocacy and Field Building Director based in Oakland, CA.

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.