I went to an event about money matters on Thursday night, not a topic to which I would usually be drawn. It was called Values-Based Banking: Financing the Future of a Changing World. I was drawn to it because Naomi Klein was speaking. I had never heard the well-known Canadian author (No Logo, The Shock Doctrine) and journalist speak, this free event gave me the opportunity. In a way, the topic was secondary, but I’m very glad I went.
As I walked along Georgia Street heading to the event, I was accompanied by scores of people on their way to the hockey game. Despite the other option, 1000 people turned up at the Centre for Performing Arts. The evening was hosted by Vancity Credit Union, part of a conference for the Global Alliance For Banking on Values (GABV). Who knew there even was such a thing? The alliance has 14 members from around the world, banks founded on principles of sustainability. As their website says, they are committed to finding “global solutions to international problems” and to developing and promoting an alternative to the current economic system that is creating such gross inequity. They adhere to the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit.
Peter Blom, CEO of the Netherlands’ Triodos Bank introduced the evening, Ian Hanomansing from the CBC moderated. There were two other panelists besides Klein, Stewart Wallis, Executive Director of the UK-based New Economics Foundation, and Tamara Vrooman, CEO of Vancity, the largest community credit union in North America and the only Canadian member of the GABV.
The panelists all emphasized that the ability to create money, the purview of banks, is a privilege, something that the big banks seem to have forgotten in their singular pursuit of profit. The discussion that followed highlighted some of the ways that sustainable banks are using financial tools and incentives to finance change. They all believe that retail banks should be investing back into the community, specifically in sustainable businesses that are socially and environmentally responsible and yes, profitable.
It was international Women’s Day on Thursday too and I couldn’t help but notice that two of the panelists were women. Tamara Vrooman mentioned that her young son asked recently, “Mommy, can boys be CEOs too?” I am proud to be a longtime member of Vancity. In my circles, we think of them as a project partner, not a funder and definitely not a banker.
The Global Alliance will be releasing a report during the conference that analyzes the performance of sustainable banks in comparison with the world’s largest banks; the results will surprise many, perhaps especially bankers. They will also be meeting with the Vancouver business community to present the case that values-based banking can also be profitable banking. Another good read might be the New Economics Foundation’s book Where Does Money Come From. It’s apparently mandatory reading for employees at the Bank of England!
The fact that the event was sponsored by accounting and audit giant KPMG and that the report is funded by the rather conservative Rockefeller Foundation speaks of change in the air. One way to be part of that change is to move your money to a credit union or small community bank, one with its heart firmly in place.