Sounds a bit like an oxymoron, doesn't it? Well, maybe it isn't. Ethical banking has been around for quite a few years, but it is only just recently that there has been an upswing in their popularity. I think it's probably obvious, with recent events, why that is the case. I'm not talking about 'normal' banks that have started claiming to support ethical and environmental issues, (whether it is true or whether they are just paying lip-service is another matter) but banks whose founding principles are fairness and sustainability.
It was announced earlier this year that three banks in France, Spain and Italy are coming together to form Europe’s first ethical bank in 2010. The idea behind this ethical bank is to create a new financing mechanism to support the growing social economy.
The project of an alternative bank has been discussed since 2001 in the framework of European Federation of Ethical and Alternative Banks (FEBEA). Now La Nef (an organisation in the field of the social economy in France), Banca Etica (Italy's first ethical bank) and Fiare in the Basque region of Spain will come together in a new entity: Banca Etica Europa.
This ethical bank will adopt the status of a European cooperative company.
To see how these banks work, we can take a look at Banca Etica in Italy.
The bank now has 12 branches and gives personal loans only for purchases that are not detrimental to the environment. Business loans are given to business that are 'green' or wish to become 'green' and whose practices are ethical. Profits from their credit cards go to Amnesty International.
Banca Etica is a member of SEFEA (European Ethical and Alternative Financing Company), which has founding members from Italy, France, Belgium, Corsica and Poland.The idea of ethical banking also got a lot of publicity when Dr. Prof. Muhammad Yunus, who founded the Grameen Bank, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. The work of this bank in Bangladesh has been phenomenal - I'm going to have to dedicate another post to it - but basically it does not require any collateral against its micro-loans. Since the bank does not wish to take any borrower to the court of law in case of non-repayment, it does not require the borrowers to sign any legal instrument.
Although each borrower must belong to a five-member group, the group is not required to give any guarantee for a loan to its member. Repayment responsibility solely rests on the individual borrower, while the group and the centre oversee that everyone behaves in a responsible way and none gets into repayment problem.
95% of the bank is owned by the poor borrowers - 7.8 million, of whom 97% are women. There are 2,548 branches in 84,096 villages and the Loan Recovery Rate is 98%.
The Grameen Bank has recently started what it calls a Struggling Members Programme which is for beggars. Again, I really have to write a full post about this, but there are already 110,743 beggars who have joined the programme.
The existing rules of the bank do not apply to beggar members - they make up their own rules. All loans are interest-free and beggar members are covered under life insurance and loan insurance programmes without paying any cost.
You see - if we, as human beings, really want to do something, we can do it - no problem. The question is - how much do we want to do it?