If you’re in the UK, chances are you bank with one of the “Big 5” (Natwest, Barclays, HSBC, Santander and RBS hold the vast majority of our accounts). Why? Probably because they’re big - they’re everywhere, so it’s easy to open an account, and they’ve got mahusive advertising budgets etc. etc. Also, perhaps, because their unscrupulous investment techniques have, in the past, been highly profitable. Apart from the occasional global financial meltdown.
The problem is, being so big means they can do essentially what they want (especially, perhaps, if they’re deemed ‘too big to fail’), and what they want is to make loadsa loadsa money. Amazingly to everyone, in 2008 (and apparently also in the 30s) we discovered that some people making loads of money isn’t the same as a healthy economy, and further that it might actually make you inclined to make money from propogating unhealthy economies (who knew?).
But what was really amazing was that - partly because the Big 5 are about as bad as each other when it comes to making a quick buck by any means necessary, and partly because we are lazy and ill-informed - although we (the people) Occupied and got thoroughly outraged at bankers’ pay, we didn’t actually put any economic pressure on the banks as consumers.
It was to address this gap in activism that Move Your Money Month was founded - to encourage people to put their money where their mouths are and switch their accounts away from the Big 5. I am pleased to say that last month I was inspired by how easy and straightforward they reminded me the process was and finally took a plunge I’d been meaning to for a while.
At least, it was with these intentions that I told HSBC, in no uncertain terms, that Yes please I very much would like a ‘close your account form’ and sent it back promptly.
I was then going to write this:
“So it’s goodbye HSBC - I was lured into your student account because I wanted the overdraft and the 100 MP3s you were offering (how I wish I’d got the railcard offered with Natwest’s student account), and now I can finally set you free.
[Pic of me snipping card gleefully in two here]
Ahhhhh. That feels much better.”
Instead, they sent me the ‘But You Still Owe Us Money’ form. At first, convinced of a conspiracy, I was outraged. Then it turned out I did owe them money.
So the saga continues, and let this serve as classic example of how life - in particular, a form of life where it’s easy for me to accumulate debt and continue putting money in the pockets of those whose activities I find ethically repulsive - gets in the way of the ethical decisions we’d like to take. And I’ve got it pretty easy, which makes it easier to understand the objections that many raise on the exclusivity of ethical consumerism.
BUT DO NOT BE DESPONDENT, residents of the world wide web. You do not have to be as hopeless at managing your finances as I am! YOU CAN make the switch, and you should (that is, if you don’t like: the earth dying screaming, recurrent financial collapse and instability, bankers and banks dodging tax whilst earning mega-packets) because as hardened money-makers, money (and especially not giving it to them) is one of the few things they understand. I will be paying off HSBC and getting well rid, and when I do I will inspire you all with pictures of me offending a debit card as best I can.