The important thing you might have overlooked doing since the last election
Your money in your bank is used to finance what you believe in, or undermine your interests. Choose a bank that shares your values.
Regardless of what side of the political aisle you are on these days, I think we can all agree things feel a little out of our control. Times are tough out there. We know you’ve been busy protesting, having tough political conversations with your uncle at the holiday dinner table, and taking other important steps to impact change in our world—that’s awesome! But I am here today to make sure you take one quick final step (it’ll take less than 10 minutes, muuuuch quicker than that 2-hour protest you went to last week) to ensure you make the biggest impact with the least amount of effort: changing your bank account.
My bank account you say? Yep, you read that right. Although the other civic actions you’ve been taking are critical to making change, let’s be honest here: money makes the world go round, and banks are funding a whole array of causes that you might not agree with. We wouldn’t want the other hard work you’re doing to be wasted because your money is being used to undermine the very issues you’re fighting for.
This idea isn’t new. And it’s actually become trendy. Calling out banks for where and what they invest in has hit the celebrity circuit. Sarah Silverman called out her bank for supporting the Dakota Access Pipeline and then plucked her money right out of that bank and put it into a community-focused credit union that aligned with her values. In response to the police killings of young black men in 2016, Killer Mike of Run the Jewels urged people to put their money in black-owned banks, and 8,000 people did.
The cool thing about all of this is that if you’ve got a few dollars in a bank, you can vote with that money, and bank without sacrificing anything. As a matter of fact, there are community-investing banks across the country, and with these banks, there’s a good chance you’ll get a better rate and lower fees.
Chicago native, tech entrepreneur and former banker Daniel Ramirez-Raftree recently moved to New York but decided to keep a portion of his money in a local Chicago bank because he knew his money would be used for good. “If you’re a civic-minded person concerned about social impact,” Ramirez-Rafttree said, “I can tell you you’re much more likely to agree with what community banks are doing with your money than what almost any other bank is doing with it.”
Eliot Abrams is a University of Chicago alumni who worked with fellow classmates to transfer one-million dollars of the University’s money to four community-focused banks. “Through some research, we realized the university had a ton of cash on hand at all times,” said Abrams. “So we thought there was no reason not to keep this money in a community-focused bank.” And the university agreed. The only restriction was that the money needed to be insured by the FDIC, but good news! The majority of banks in the country are FDIC-insured. Your deposits in all FDIC-insured banks are equally safe up to at least $250,000. And many banks offer multimillion-dollar deposit insurance.
The beauty of choosing among community-focused banks is that each is a little bit different. Some invest in Black-owned businesses, some invest in rural communities, others have a strong interest in the environment. Some do all of the above. Many have an explicit purpose beyond growing richer.
Embedded in communities, community-focused banks create flexible loan options, provide higher interest rates, and many being small businesses themselves, are well-suited to work with other small businesses. Though they may not have thousands of branches nationwide, most have online banking or mobile apps, and local market expertise. Abrams summarizes: “community-focused banks tend to have more flexibility in terms of what they can offer.”
By now you must be asking yourself, huh—maybe it’s time to consider voting with my bank dollars in addition to my ballot and my megaphone?
Bridget Newsham is an editor and writer based out of Chicago, Illinois. She writes primarily about local politics, housing, and urban development but is always excited to take on new and interesting subjects. Her work has been featured in Chicago Magazine, VICE, South Side Weekly, amongst others.