BRENDAN O’NEILL: We want banks to look after our cash – not wave their ideologies and flags in our faces
Britain’s High Street banks have got some front. In 2008, during the great financial crisis, they dragged the country to the brink of economic catastrophe, showing unparalleled greed and ineptitude. Now they’re lecturing us little people on how we should live.
Just days ago, for instance, NatWest, which was bailed out to the tune of £45 billion by us taxpayers, launched a Carbon Footprint Tracker on its mobile banking app.
This finger-wagging widget sifts through the transaction data of customers that sign up to it and essentially tells them off if they spend too much money on un-green things.
Perhaps if the tracker spots that the user is making nightly trips to McDonald’s, it’ll suggest vegan alternatives to the poor meat-eater. Filling up at Shell once a month? Consider switching from a diesel vehicle to an electric one.
The tracker also ‘advises’ customers to use their tumble dryers less, repair old clothes and put the washing machine on a cold spin.
Just days ago NatWest, which was bailed out to the tune of £45 billion by us taxpayers, launched a Carbon Footprint Tracker on its mobile banking app
This finger-wagging widget sifts through the transaction data of customers that sign up to it and essentially tells them off if they spend too much money on un-green things
The tracker also ‘advises’ customers to use their tumble dryers less, repair old clothes and put the washing machine on a cold spin
One message sent by the tracker said: ‘If you spend £15 on a dress at a High Street shop, that could equate to a footprint of 16 kg CO2.’
One ticked-off customer encapsulated how ridiculous the NatWest eco-tracker is. Faith Scott, a 76-year-old from Surrey, said she found the carbon calculator to be an ‘intrusion’. Banks should prioritise ‘looking after our money, not our morals’, she said.
Exactly. We want our banks to dish out money advice, not moral advice. But Britain’s gods of finance just can’t help themselves. In lecturing us on the environment or transgenderism, our woke banks have nurtured a new nagocracy, where customers are for ever being scolded over their lifestyles and beliefs.
NatWest is a repeat offender. Not content with berating us for the clothes we wear and the meat we eat, it also loves to burnish its LGBTQ credentials. It allows staff to display on their eco-friendly name badges, made from sustainable bamboo, whichever gender pronouns they please from one day to the next.
Remember when it was only blue-haired, time-rich campus activists who did things like this? Now it’s the preserve of the captains of capitalism. And heaven help the customer who dares to query NatWest’s descent into eccentric activism. They might find themselves ‘debanked’, like Nigel Farage.
He revealed earlier this year that his account at Coutts bank, which is owned by NatWest, was shut down when Coutts’ sinister-sounding ‘wealth reputational risk committee’ decreed that his views are ‘at odds with our position as an inclusive organisation’.
In short, he’s a moral undesirable; someone we must cast out. I miss the days when banks only cared about what was in our wallets, not our hearts and minds.
Coutts essentially debanked Farage for being critically-minded. He had the temerity to question Black Lives Matter, and — horror — he was described as ‘anti-Net Zero’.
Heaven help the customer who dares to query NatWest’s descent into eccentric activism. They might find themselves ‘debanked’, like Nigel Farage (pictured)
He revealed earlier this year that his account at Coutts bank, which is owned by NatWest, was shut down
So the corporate nagocracy goes much further than signalling woke virtue. It also cancels those who refuse to take the knee to correct-think. How long before NatWest’s carbon tracker starts debanking the most ‘eco-unfriendly’ customers? It isn’t hard to imagine such a dystopian future.
Meanwhile, the huge insurance company Aviva is throwing its weight around on the climate question.
Last week, it sounded the alarm over the Government’s decision to expand oil and gas exploration in the North Sea. Its group chief executive officer, Amanda Blanc, signalled her eco-disdain. She is ‘worried’ that Britain’s ‘climate action has stalled’.
You don’t have to be a latte-sipping Leninist to be worried about a massive corporation like Aviva meddling in democratic politics. The Government is elected, Aviva is not. Do we really want an insurance company lecturing our representatives on what kind of energy it is acceptable to invest in?
Aviva wants oil refineries phased out and for everyone to drive an electric car.
That might be a nice, planet-friendly goal that they hope will make potential customers feel warm and fuzzy and inclined to take out an Aviva policy. But what about those who earn a living from oil production — force them on to the dole? And are people who can’t afford an electric car condemned to commute every day on one, two or three buses?
The disconnect between ordinary people’s lives and rich people virtue-signalling has rarely been so exposed.
Like NatWest, Yorkshire Building Society identifies as a ‘trans ally’ and flies no fewer than nine different Pride flags at various points in the year from a 50ft pole outside its head office on the Bradford ring road.
You don’t have to be a latte-sipping Leninist to be worried about a massive corporation like Aviva meddling in democratic politics. The Government is elected, Aviva is not
But I wouldn’t want to be told what to think about social justice issues by my bank any more than I want mortgage advice from the gay rights campaigners Stonewall.
But our High Street institutions are particularly sensitive to trans rights, like Barclays, which informed its customers about pronoun usage in June, 2021. ‘He/him. She/her. They/them. Pronouns may just be a few letters, but they can mean everything’, it tweeted.
And Lloyds pulled an especially egregious rabbit out of its hat last month when it emerged that it offered counselling to staff who felt menaced by the ‘anti-trans’ rhetoric at the Conservative Party conference. ‘Hearing language that fuels hate and division’ can feel ‘shocking’, said Lloyds.
HSBC, meanwhile, loves to trumpet its green credentials. As part of the build-up to the COP26 environmental summit in Glasgow, it produced an advertising campaign to boast of its $1 trillion investment in climate-friendly initiatives.
Only, it was ticked off by the Advertising Standards Authority for failing to mention the bank’s own colossal contributions to climate degradation. Because, of course, the bank was simultaneously involved in financing fossil fuel businesses that contribute to it.
But why can’t banks make peace with their contradictions? We live in a complicated world of overlapping agendas, so by pretending otherwise with gimmicky apps, tiresome tweets and flags of every colour they obscure their true purpose — to make money.
Currency today exists in social media ‘likes’ as much as it does in gold bullion, and being seen as woke reassures the new, younger generation of customers that they are placing their money in the hands of a ‘right thinking’ institution.
They might just forget that their prospective bank’s wild speculation on financial products they knew little about helped crash the economy in 2007-8, or that sky-high bonuses paid to staff seem a little off-message during a cost-of-living squeeze. Or that savings rates are still miserly despite the Bank of England base rate having risen to 5.25 per cent. What is all this compared with having an inclusive pronoun policy?
Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t want banks to tell us what to think. I don’t want them to punish people for having ‘incorrect’ beliefs. I don’t want them waving their flags and their ideologies in our faces when we just want to withdraw some cash.
Look after my money, but leave my mind alone.
- Brendan O’Neill is chief political writer at Spiked.
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