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Responsible Banking - Don't Like What the big Banks are Doing? Don't Give Them Your Money.

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OCCUPY LONDON
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How long can we stay angry for? It's over three years since the outrageous scale of the financial crisis became clear, and ordinary people are still suffering the consequences while the big banks slip back into business as usual.

And so onto the streets go the protestors, occupying Wall Street, London and financial centres across the world, voicing the sense of powerlessness and frustration many feel. Will it last? Will it fade? Much depends on whether the protests can coalesce around solutions, rather than problems.

We know something has gone badly wrong in the banking system, something too deep for the tinkering proposed by the Vickers commission to solve. And this means something has gone badly wrong in our society, because we let it happen. Somewhere along the line, money has become the end rather than the means, and we have allowed our financial system to drive, rather than serve, the things that matter.

We need to better understand the root causes of what went wrong and hold those responsible to account, including ourselves. Did we ask questions about why the credit we enjoyed was so cheap, or why the rates on our savings were so catchy?

But we also need to look for solutions, now. And we need to decide what each of us can do to make that solution happen. If we expect change to emerge without the voice and support of ordinary citizens, the only change we'll see is a reinforcement of the status quo. The vested interests are too powerful to be left alone.

We are powerful, too. We may not have the time or the courage of the Occupy protestors, but most of us have money. In a world driven by profit, our power as consumers is equal to, if not stronger than, our power as citizens. In the past we've changed things by making choices about how we spend our money - Fairtrade KitKat, anyone? - but where we choose to keep that money is an equally powerful choice.

Ethical financial institutions in the UK and across the world are showing that a genuine alternative exists: one which uses money to support people and the planet, not the other way round. Every one of Ecology's 10,000 savers has dared to ask questions about what their money is actually doing when they invest. And every one has made a positive decision to invest that money in something useful. Don't like what the big banks are doing? Don't give them your money.

Yes, we all need a return on our investment - and you'll get that with the ethical institutions. You might find a better rate with one of the banks that got us into this mess. But is it worth it, really? The interest rate tables in the money sections of every newspaper give credence to the lie that financial returns are the only thing of value. What they don't tell you is the values you're buying into, and the real impact - positive or negative - this can make in the world.

I'm not naïve enough to suggest that if enough of us swap to an ethical financial institution, the entire financial system will suddenly find its conscience. But here's what the ethical sector can do: show that an alternative is possible. Financial institutions can serve the good of people and the environment and not just survive but prosper. This is what all banks should be doing. Call it responsible banking, if you like.

Changing an entire system is a very big thing indeed. But it's made up of many small changes, and you can be one of those. Let's stay angry, but let's realise we all have the power to do something about it.

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