Saturday, January 14, 2012
Putting our money where our mouths are (Part III)
The New Year is built around this ritual: promises to ourselves to quit smoking, or to find a job that inspires us, or to eat healthier and get more exercise; promises which are sometimes happily fulfilled, but also more often than not remain on the following year's to-do list. But even though the process may be longer than we intended, it is what actually happens in the end that matters.
Almost a year ago we talked about moving our money out of large corporate banks that put profit to distant shareholders above all else (including the nation's economy), work ceaselessly to lure you into new debt traps, and fail to re-invest significant money in local communities. We were sick of supporting the system -- our participation bought cheap by convenience and lack of initiative in exploring alternatives -- and wanted out.
We began to explore banking alternatives, sleuthing on-line to uncover individual bank's lending and investment practices and interviewing prospective banks for a place to call home to our bank account. And then, as so often happens to many positive intentions to change old unhealthy habits and behaviors, life got incredibly busy, old routines flexed their muscles and all change got pushed to the back burner. Our money stayed put where it was.
But true intentions, like a seed planted in fall, have a way of remaining dormant until their time has arrived to become. Yesterday, we finally found a home for our money in a bank that reflects our values: the Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union. Why this bank?
Unlike a commercial bank, a credit union is owned locally by its members instead of by stockholders that often live far from the community in which the bank is located. In addition, a credit union is a non-profit, so instead of being driven solely by concerns about profits returned to stockholders, credit-unions return gains on investments to all members in the form of higher returns on savings accounts and lower interest rates on loans. Most importantly, you can only be a member of a credit union if you live in the local area, so we know that the money in our account will go into a large pool of collective capital that allows the bank to make loans to small-businesses and people living in our community.
When we signed all the paperwork and chatted with our banking representative, we noticed that many of the people coming through the doors were elderly. Why? Maybe it's only the old-timers that remember what banks once were in America: important partners who had a shared stake in seeing the local community grow and do well, who had more to gain from slow progress than quick profits and the wreckage of debt.
So we're going to the annual meeting of members to elect the board and weigh in on the annual plan. Maybe the idea of a banking meeting sounds about as enticing as dental work, but who knows? Maybe there's more to banking than we have come to expect.
And if your New Years pledge has nothing to do with moving your money, that's fine; just remain hopeful that our old pledges for change sometimes sprout roots and take hold just when we had about given up on them. We're pulling for you.