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It’s Time to Move Your Money

If ever you wondered who actually controls our world, surely you no longer have any doubts. After the 2008 global financial crisis (which continues today) accumulated a loss of some $10trillion, you would have thought that governments around the world would have done something substantial. To date they have not. The Financial Regulatory Reform bill in the United States was half-ass, and even that barely made it past the Republican Party. Project Merlin in the United Kingdom was an even worse attempt. The Euro Zone bounces from one crisis to another. Executive bonuses continue to flourish and the banks fail to lend as citizens around the world are made to cover the banking industry losses through alarmingly high unemployment rates and the dismantling of social services. While unemployment continues to rise and austerity cuts take their toll on many societies, the financial industry bonus culture has returned to pre-2008 levels and taxes on the very wealthy have been reduced.

It is instructive to compare the political and societal responses to the current crisis to those of the Great Depression which began in 1929. While the causes of each crisis are not dissimilar, the reaction to both are strikingly different. In the 1930’s people were angry and channelled their anger into action groups and organisations. At the same time governments took control of the financial sector through regulation and legislation that criminalised behaviour that caused the crisis. Not today.

It’s not as though our complaints about the banks are unfair. In an article in The Guardian entitled “Bare-faced bankers should be treated as criminals: prosecuted and imprisoned”, Ferguson Charles writes:

Selling defective mortgage securities during the housing bubble; creating and selling securities to bet on their failure; bringing the world to the brink of collapse; colluding to manipulate interest rates; hyping your failing company while secretly selling your own stock; cooking the books; assisting Bernard Madoff. For many people in banking, it would seem, securities fraud, accounting fraud, perjury and conspiracy are just another day at the office.

And we can now add to the list of complaints that of money laundering. Again Ferguson sums up the charges: customer was beyond the pale. Several banks aided Iran not just in evading general sanctions, but in concealing payments directly involving its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes. Evidence suggests that HSBC and other global banks also performed similar services for various combinations (depending on the bank) of Hamas, North Korea, Sudan, Gaddafi's Libya, Hezbollah, African warlords, ex-dictators, drug cartels, and banks linked to al-Qaida, among other distinguished clients. The amounts processed totalled hundreds of billions of dollars.

Whether it’s selling us phony mortgages or unneeded insurance, or financing warlords and drug cartels, the banks have let us down. In return our politicians demand we pay the price to protect the banks while not bringing the industry under control. Indeed, many politicians are protecting the bankers.

Obviously we need banks (!), though perhaps fewer banks that are too big to fail. There is something we can do. We can move our money to ethical banks.

For those of you in the United States and the United Kingdom there are two websites to help:

Move Our Money in the US; and


Move Your Money in the UK.


There are ethical banks, building societies and credit unions we can turn to. In the UK, the two obvious examples of ethical banks are the Co-operative Bank and Triodos. For most of us moving our money will not be difficult, though obviously it will take time. For some it may be a complicated and stressful activity, but I would still encourage all of us to move our money. And a reminder:

The moral integrity of an act does not depend of the efficacy of that act.

It would be nice if we were all billionaires and moved our money together. But the fact that I am not wealthy does not diminish the moral and authentic importance of my actions. And while transferring my finances to another bank may not shock or even be noticed by my original bank, if enough of us do it, the too-big-to-fail banks will eventually notice. In the meantime, we can invest in banks that deserve our business.

In closing I would like to recommend two books, different in tone and focus but both worth reading. The first is Thomas Frank’s Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Time Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right (London: Harvill Secker, 2012). Frank does an excellent job comparing our responses to the 1929 and 2008 financial crises. The other is Inside Job: The Financiers who Pulled off the Heist of the Century (Oneworld Publications, 2012). If you want to understand what caused the 2008 crisis and what are the  resultant consequences, this is an excellent book. (Inside Job follows his Oscar winning documentary of the same title.)

Copyright © 2012 Dale Rominger

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