New Bank of the West Report Highlights Major Consumer Knowledge Gaps in Sustainable Finance | Sustainable Brands (2024)

Fossil fuels and other climate-risky endeavors are still big money for banks; and even if consumers find their bank continues to fund them, it’s something they often feel powerless tochange.

For all of our ongoing efforts to reduce emissions, use better materials andadopt other climate-friendlier practices, one of the biggest barriers to movingthe needle still revolves around money.

A new Bank of the Westreport released todayhighlights some of the resulting disconnects with consumers: Although 79 percentof respondents are “passionate” about climate change, only 22 percent actuallyknow if their bank is financing fossilfuels.

“Increasingly, we’re seeing that ESG is the most important factor in choosing abank,” Melissa Fifield, Bank of the West’s head of corporate socialresponsibility & sustainability, told Sustainable Brands™.

The San Francisco-based institution appears to have transparent andstringent environmental financingpoliciescompared to many of its peers in the US; so the report is as much of anopportunity for the bank to walk its talk as it is to shine a light on bigfinance’s role in the climate conversation.

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“We stand out from our competition in the specific financing policies we have inplace, and how that appeals to Gen Z consumers,” Fifield says.

As investment advisor Vanguard found out lastfall,financial transparency matters more than ever; and moving in the wrong directioncan have business impacts well beyond the bottom line.

Not surprisingly, younger generations know and care more

The report found the highest awareness of bank-related climate funding landedwith millennials (24-39) and Gen Z (18-23) consumers. Of course, those agegroups care more as a whole about how their purchases can make a difference; buttranslating that to banking is a much more difficult task.

The report illustrates that obstacle, finding that 66 percent of respondentswould stay with their bank, even after learning it had “no restrictions onfinancing certain commercial businesses, areas or sectors” (regardless ofperceived impact). However, 61 percent of Gen Z respondents said they wouldchange their bank if they knew their current institution was financing fracking,for example.

While more and more banks have begun to mobilize around climate change and havemade individual net-zeropledges,their continued investment in polluting sources ofenergyflies in the face of those pledges — and external pressure is mounting for themto put their money where their mouths are. December saw a promising move tophase out coalfinancingfrom British banking giant HSBC; but the grandaddy of all investors,BlackRock, continues to hedge its bets on forgoing financing for fossilfuelcompanies.Fossil fuel-producing businesses are still big money for banks — to the tune oftrillions ofdollars— and it’s something that consumers often feel powerless to change in the grandscheme of the climate conversation.

In response to this, consumer awarenesscampaignsfrom activist organizations such as Bank.Green have emerged to make iteasier for individual investors and banking customers to discover where theirbanks’ money is going — and, if necessary, to move their money intoinstitutions whose practices align with theirvalues.

Sustainable finance is good for business — internally and externally

While it’s not surprising that a bank-funded report would highlight datasupporting the reputational benefits of climate-friendly financing, what wassurprising was the positioning of how internal stakeholders could help advancethose conversations.

“When it comes to the response of business leaders, mid-level executives are anuntapped resource,’ Fifield says.

By and large, the report found more than half of director- and manager-levelemployees didn’t know if their company’s bank was financing efforts such asArctic drilling, coal power plants or deforestation. It also found that thesemiddle managers are more likely to ask for changes in their company’s financingplans as opposed to those at the top (VP or higher).

Granted, those types of structural changes are easier said than done; but itdoes show that these mid-level, typically younger, employees are ushering in anew era of transparency demand, and it would serve both companies and banks toembrace and execute around that.

Limited insight into its own future strategy

When asked about how these findings could affect the Bank of the West’s future —and its sale to Bank ofMontreal,expected to close at the end of the year — Fifield said she couldn’t commentopenly about the latter, but did note that they are focused on what they’redoing today.

She explained that the bank is two years ahead of schedule in meeting a $1billion financecommitmentto clean and renewable energy. CMO Ben Stuart added that the Bank's 1% for the Planetcheckingaccounthas “tens of thousands of account holders” and is largely responsible for Bank of theWest’s total certified giving as a 1% for the Planet member of just over $4.5million. Fifield noted that about a quarter of new-to-bank checking customersare opening that account.

As this latest report shows, as consumer awareness of their banks’ activitiesgrows, demand for efforts like these are sure to grow with it.

Bank of the West

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Published Mar 9, 2022 12pm EST / 9am PST / 5pm GMT / 6pm CET

Geoff Nudelman

Geoff is a freelance journalist and copywriter focused on making the world a better place through compelling copy. He covers everything from apparel to travel while helping brands worldwide craft their messaging. In addition to Sustainable Brands, he's currently a contributor at Penta,, Field Mag and many others. You can check out more of his work at

As an expert and enthusiast, I can provide information on the concepts mentioned in the article you shared. Let's break it down and discuss each concept:

Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuels are non-renewable energy sources that are formed from the remains of ancient plants and animals. They include coal, oil, and natural gas. Fossil fuels have been the primary source of energy for industrial and transportation sectors for many years. However, their combustion releases greenhouse gases, contributing to climate change.

Climate Change

Climate change refers to long-term shifts in weather patterns and average temperatures on Earth. It is primarily caused by human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and industrial processes. Climate change has significant impacts on ecosystems, weather events, sea levels, and human societies.

Bank Financing of Fossil Fuels

The article highlights that many banks continue to finance fossil fuel-related projects, despite growing concerns about climate change. This means that banks provide financial support to companies involved in activities like coal mining, oil extraction, and natural gas production. The article suggests that consumers are often unaware of their banks' involvement in financing fossil fuels.

Consumer Awareness and Bank Choice

The article mentions that an increasing number of consumers consider environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors when choosing a bank. ESG refers to the environmental, social, and governance practices of a company. The report from Bank of the West indicates that while a significant percentage of respondents are passionate about climate change, only a small portion actually know if their bank is financing fossil fuels.

Transparency and Financial Impact

The article emphasizes the importance of financial transparency for banks. It suggests that banks that are transparent about their financing practices, particularly regarding climate-related projects, are more likely to gain the trust and loyalty of consumers. The report also highlights that younger generations, such as millennials and Gen Z, are more aware of and concerned about their banks' financing activities related to climate change.

Sustainable Finance and Consumer Demand

The article mentions the emergence of consumer awareness campaigns, such as Bank.Green, which aim to provide information about banks' financing activities and help individuals align their banking choices with their values. It suggests that sustainable finance, which focuses on investments that have positive environmental and social impacts, can be beneficial for both businesses and consumers.

Internal Stakeholders and Transparency

The article suggests that mid-level executives within companies can play a crucial role in driving changes in their companies' financing plans. The report found that middle managers are more likely to ask for changes in financing practices compared to higher-level executives. This indicates a growing demand for transparency and sustainable practices within organizations.

Bank of the West's Initiatives

The article mentions Bank of the West's efforts to promote clean and renewable energy. The bank has made a $1 billion finance commitment to clean and renewable energy and offers a checking account called "1% for the Planet," which supports environmental causes. The bank's focus on sustainable initiatives aligns with the preferences of Gen Z consumers.

It's important to note that the information provided above is based on the content of the article you shared. For more specific details or additional information, it would be helpful to refer to the original article or conduct further research.

New Bank of the West Report Highlights Major Consumer Knowledge Gaps in Sustainable Finance | Sustainable Brands (2024)
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