We've all got to have our pay cheques go somewhere at the end of each month. But most people's perception of banks – especially those of us who graduated into the aftermath of the 2008 recession – isn't great.
And it's not getting better. High street names were recently urged to ban overdraft fees, following outrage when a FCA report revealed that banks had made £1.2 billion out of unplanned overdraft fees in one year. Factor in that the top five UK banks were found in 2015 to be the biggest lenders to companies engaged in oil and gas extraction and it makes sense to hunt out alternatives.
Good news is, scrappy, fledgling players are stepping onto the scene. While it used to be Co-op or bust in the ethical banking hunt, we've all noticed the neon flash of Monzo cards, while old school building societies can offer a less ruthless alternative to big money-driven banks.
Rebecca O'Connor, founder of ethical personal finance website Good With Money, insists that our money is the most powerful thing that we have, and where you choose to bank it is crucial.
"People feel like they don't have any power when it comes to banking, but they do," she says. "It comes down to the system as well: larger banks are under the impression that taking into account social and environmental issues when investing will result in bad outcomes, but it is has been proven that this isn't the case."
Since the financial crash, there has been a call for a separation of retail banking (our money) and investment banking, and after extensive research, we are on course to see our money pulled out of large scale investment by 2019. Until then, we should be asking ourselves what we can we do to ensure that our money is being put to, if not always not actively good, then at least benign, use.
Traditionally, the Co-op bank was the choice for people looking to put their money in a sound place, due to its refusal to do business with companies who breach human rights, or are involved in animal testing. While undoubtedly still offering a better ethical way than most banks, however, it has been plagued with financial stress and has parted ways with the Co-op Group – now being owned by US hedge fund.
Monzo – the bank of those bright pink cards – is positioning itself as the bank of the future. An app that allows users to see updates on where their money has gone almost instantly following a transaction, it also promises transparency on where your money is being invested. Your data doesn't go to third parties unless you agree and you can freeze and unfreeze the card, for if you lose and find it. At the moment, it's a case of loading cash onto the card from your existing account, but a current account is coming soon.
For Tristan Thomas, Head of Marketing and Community at Monzo, knowing where your money is going is the draw for their customers.
"There's been a huge separation from what banking used to be. It's so opaque for people, and requires hours of research if you want to know what's being done with your money. Which is crazy," he says.
Charity Bank, a savings bank and loan provider, is the first bank in the UK to receive the Social Enterprise Mark, which celebrates companies' efforts to put the interests of the planet before shareholders and profits. Their loans are used for causes such as domestic violence victims, low-income housing or education for excluded young people.
Dutch Triodos Bank sells itself as an ethical alternative. Having opened their first ever current account available in Britain this year, it's fresh on the scene here, although it's been operating in its home country since 1980. The bank lends exclusively to organisations that are making a positive difference environmentally or socially and reveals all of these on its website. The people behind Glastonbury Festival, for example, borrowed from the bank in 2010 to finance a solar power system. They also donate £40 to The Rainforest Foundation UK after the balance of each savings account exceeds £100. The catch? A £3 monthly fee. (Though the price of a posh coffee hopefully won't put people off.)
Another alternative is Reliance Bank. Founded as The Salvation Army Bank, the church receives 75 per cent of the revenue. It's commited to ethical banking and its top five managers take home yearly bonuses of around £500 per person. The bank is, however very small and not in a position to deal with a massive boom in custom, while the Salvation's Army Evangelical Christian views could deter some people.
Rebecca also advises, if in any doubt, to opt for a building society over a bank any day, when looking for a sustainable place to put your money.
"They're mutually owned by their customers and don't have that same pressure to deliver to their shareholders that banks do. Because of this, they are steady, sustainable and can make good long term decisions."
Rebecca is also adamant that if investment banks took environmental and social objectives into account, they would see great results in the long term.
Time to put your money where your mouth is?