Clean money, honey

Is your bank lending your hard-earned cash to the things that really matter, like renewable energy and disability housing? We speak to Fiona Nixon, Head of Strategy and Communications at Bank Australia, and get the low-down on clean money and ethical banking.

When did the Bank Australia journey first begin?

In 1957, as the CSIRO Co-operative Credit Society, can you believe it? Since then we’ve had credit unions and co-ops merge together to eventually become Australia’s first customer-owned bank in 2011, as Bankmecu. In 2015, we changed our name to Bank Australia.

You are a bank owned by your customers. Tell us what this means.

Being customer-owned means we act in our customers’ best interests, not external shareholders’. Most other banks are “investor-owned”, which means they are owned by, and answer to, external shareholders (who don’t even have to be customers). These banks need to focus on making profits for their shareholders, which is often prioritised over what’s best for customers.

It’s important to know we’re accountable to our customers first and foremost. So instead of paying dividends to shareholders, our profits are invested back into providing benefits to our customers such as supporting projects that do good, not harm, for people and the planet plus fair fees, rates, products and services.

Being customer-owned also means our customers have a say on things like what our Impact Fund supports, and the industries covered in our Responsible Banking Policy. Every customer is also a part owner of our Conservation Reserve.

Why should we shift our money away from the pockets of the big four banks?

According to Market Forces, the big four lent $21 billion to the fossil fuel industry between 2015, the time of the Paris Agreement, and 2018. Not all of us will have a problem with that, but if you do — for those of us who really want to see action on climate change — it’s time to ask ourselves, does my banking align with my values?

What does clean money mean?

Clean money is a global movement about understanding that where you choose to bank — and invest and have your super — can have a huge impact on the world. Why? Because the money you put in your account doesn’t just sit there – it’s actually used by banks to make loans and investments. The types of loans banks make can go to industries that do good, like renewable energy, or those that do harm, like fossil fuels, tobacco or weapons. So where your money goes ultimately shapes the world we all live in.

Clean money is about choosing banks, and other financial institutions like super funds, that choose to use your money to lend to good stuff, not the harmful stuff.

Should potential customers be concerned that, by investing ethically, Bank Australia runs the risk of limiting its profits?

We don’t think so. Like all businesses, making a profit is important to ensuring our long-term sustainability. But we don’t believe in maximising profit just for the sake of it. And because we answer to our customers, not shareholders, we can focus on making decisions that create positive impact over the long term for customers and for our planet. For our customers, choosing a responsible bank doesn’t cost them more, and we think our rates and fees stack up well compared to other Australian banks.

We also think about the fact that the areas we’re interested in investing in — renewables, specialist disability housing, individual customers and so on — are growth areas and, in our opinion, the future. And the areas we choose not to lend to — fossil fuels, live animal exports and others — simply are not the key to a sustainable, or profitable, future.

You are the first Australian bank to take a strong position on animal welfare issues like live animal exports. Please tell us more about this. 

Definitely. Like the majority of Australians, we think that there are a lot of problems with the live animal export trade when it comes to animal welfare. In 2018 we worked with animal welfare experts and our customers to become the first Australian bank to rule out lending to or investing in the live animal export industry. We also committed to not lend to organisations that use intensive animal farming systems, like battery-caged hens and sow stalls.

Our research tells us that 74 per cent of our customers support this position. As a customer-owned bank, if our customers care about an issue, then we care about it.

What are three smart money tips for millennials?

  1. To understand what your bank may be funding, I suggest you start by checking your bank on
  2. Research where you’re spending your money and the impact on other people and the climate. Have you looked into the sustainability policies of your go-to clothing brands? Can you sub your regular brands for sustainable options, like pads and tampons from Tsuno or switching your search engine to Ecosia to plant trees just by using the internet?
  3. Think about your superannuation and ask your fund where your money is being invested. You might find that it’s invested in ways that are harming the world you want to retire in.

What’s next for Bank Australia?

We’ve seen record growth over the past year, and in particular last couple of months, as people want to take real action on climate change. And the more we grow, the bigger the impact we can have as more money is moved away from banks that fund harmful and destructive industries. Some key projects for us are growing understanding of clean money in Australia, implementing our Conservation Reserve’s 10-year strategy to ensure climate change resilience, and continually developing our digital services to respond to our customers’ banking habits.


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