How Cooperative Banking Can Improve the Economy (and Our Lives)

Alternative banks are increasingly popular in the US, though Europe still leads the way. Community credit unions are helping to enrich community businesses while making profit. 

What's the Latest Development?

Since 2010, an estimated 10 million bank accounts have been moved from multinational financial institutions to community credit unions and other kinds of cooperative, ethical banks. For the first time ever, credit union assets have risen over $1 trillion, reports the Credit Union National Association. The sea change represents the public's displeasure with corporate profits that come at the expense of communities' well-being. Profit-making practices like speculation drive up commodity prices; levered buyouts can result in layoffs and factory closures; and investment in foreign companies can trade off with the success of local businesses. 

What's the Big Idea?

To date, European countries have been more forward thinking about banking alternatives than the US. Triodos Bank is perhaps the international leader with offices in the Netherlands, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Germany. The bank currently invests in organic food production, renewable energy, fair trade agriculture, micro-financing and cultural programs. In the US, One PacificCoast Bank and New Resource Bank are similarly interested in community development. Another alternative is state-owned banks. In North Dakota, such a a system has kept the state out of budget crises, reporting a surplus each year. 

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