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Ethical Cash: Our Criminal Banks

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You're in town and you need a coffee. Like, if you don't get a latte soon, you are going to KICK. OFF.

In front of you, Coffee Warehouse. They avoid tax, employ workers on zero-hour contracts and your mate said the CEO's a Tory. Next door, Frank's. A family-run, fairtrade bean shack, they employ your best friend's sister, keep your spending power local, and allow you to buy flat whites for Sheffield's homeless population. Where do you go?

If the answer's obvious, it's probably because like a lot of people you've got used to ethical consumption. But if you paid for that organic, free-range mochaccino with money you keep in a UK bank, there's a very good chance that how you spend your money is being ethically undercut by where you keep it. How good a chance? Well, 77% of us bank with the UK's four monetary giants, and these bad lads are up to some seriously heinous stuff.

The Royal Bank of Scotland has been in the headlines recently. As well as getting a whacking great $1.3bn fine for fixing foreign exchange markets (criminality "on a massive scale," according to the FBI) and a further £390m for fiddling with LIBOR (more of that later), RBS has also been responsible for some mafia-style asset stripping.

Just get out of the big four, alright?

In the aftermath of the financial crash, RBS needed cash quick. One way they got it was to force small businesses which banked with them into a special division of the bank, referred to internally as the 'vampire unit'. This unit would then force the businesses into unnecessary defaults. Bad news for thousands of businesses, but great news for RBS, who picked up some juicy assets in the process. John Mann MP labelled the so-called Dash For Cash scandal "the single biggest scandal since the 2008 crisis," which is impressive considering the stiff competition for that title.

Lloyds Banking Group have set aside an eye-watering £17bn for compensation claims after the 'mis-selling' of PPI. Payment protection insurance has become a bit of cliché in corporate bad behaviour, so it's worth going over the fundamentals. Lloyds sells you insurance which they know you'll almost certainly never be able to use. Simple as that. As in the RBS case, once again a major British bank is treating its customer base as a resource to be exploited, rather than a group to be served.

Bank with Barclays? Britain's oldest continually operating bank is currently facing charges of fraud, due to reach court in January 2019. In an unprecedented move, the charges are being levelled not just at senior executives, but at the corporation itself. This sort of thing doesn't usually happen, so watch this space. If you want an idea of the culture at Barclays PLC, note how four of its former employees were jailed last year for rigging LIBOR, which basically means your mortgage went up for Barclays' profit.

HSBC will deal with anyone: Iranian sanction breakers, Mexican drug cartels, Russian oligarchs. In 2012, a US Senate investigation concluded that HSBC had been a conduit for "drug kingpins and rogue nations". The bank's misdemeanours are too many and too varied to be detailed here, but if you're happy with an organisation that sees a South American severed head and thinks 'kerching', then you need to take a long hard look at yourself, pal.

What can you do? Isn't there a reason the big four are so popular? Pfft. Severed heads? Sort yourself out.

It's never been so easy to switch. Online banking means it's simpler than ever to organise your money without a branch. The charity bank Triodos launched its Current Account this year, which means you can directly invest your money in good causes. Or there's Charity Bank, where the clue is very much in the name. Or building societies like Nationwide, or a number of smaller, regional organisations. I don't care where you move it. You're a grown up. It's up to you. Just get it out of the big four, alright?

Laurence Peacock

For more info, search "move your money".

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