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Follow The Money

23 May 201906:06PMclimate-election

If you can make it rational, easy and normal for people to do something for the planet, they'll do it. So let's put that into practice!

Our case study for today? Banking.


I think it's pretty fascinating to look at consumer banking technology in different parts of the world. It's almost like looking into alternate histories, in an aspect of our lives that mostly tends to fade into the background and get taken for granted.

Like... if you lived in the US, you'd apparently either still be slinging cheques (checks?) around, or be sending money in some kind of publically accessible feed.

But I guess we can apply the same kind of thinking to the actual past as well. The criteria I used to pick my first bank were something like:

I can't remember the last time visited a branch, and the idea that I once chose a service provider based on how many metal boxes they have scattered across the landscape seems insane. But we tend to stick with banks, even when our criteria change, because there's this perception that switching is much harder than it really is - but more on that in a second.

By comparison, here's what I'd look for today:

This is a pretty huge shift. We've gone from physical infrastructure and having the cash to sign on with credit card providers, to an almost entirely digital landscape. These are services that much smaller players can provide just as well as larger ones - often better. In terms of "can I get shit done," larger banks used to have a clear advantage. Now, that's pretty much gone.

But it's that last one that really gets me, because tying someone's payment details to their phone number or email address suddenly opens up a world of possibility.


One of the neat things about owning a domain name (and you'll have to excuse me as I dive from banking minutiae to email minutiae) is that you can separate your contact details from your service provider. If your primary online identity is, then you're pretty much tied to Gmail forever. If it's, you've suddenly got a whole range of options. You can swap out the back-end service provider without having to update your contact details.

(I guess the less geeky version of this, and perhaps the comparison I should have picked to start with, is being able to take your mobile number with you when you change providers)

And that's what we're just seeing the beginnings of in banking. If your payment details are tied to something you control, like a phone number, and not something your bank controls like an account number, it suddenly gets much easier to change the underlying service provider. You can change banks like you'd change mobile providers, and your money can still reach you.

On top of that, the payment platform it's built on top of makes it way easier to run accounts with multiple banks in parallel.


So we're reaching a point, thanks to technology, where:

  1. Smaller players can actually give you the service you need - maybe even better, and;
  2. The friction of switching is starting to drop, which means;
  3. Changing banks is probably actually viable for a lot more people.

Which is pretty neat! Because it turns out banks are one of the best places to get money to fund fossil fuel projects. If you're reading this, there's a good chance that you don't want your money to be a part of that - and it's never been easier to switch.

Now, there's two ways of framing this. We could see it as a largely symbolic (depending on your finances) attempt to get yourself out of some awful guilt. Or, we could see it as a prudent strategy to get yourself out of an awful investment.

Not just because these investments are bad for the planet (and that's increasingly going to be a financial step rather than a moral one) but because they're expensive and unreliable and risky, where renewables are cheap and reliable and safe. We're not going to have to wait long before supporting fossil fuels is totally untenable anyway - why not avoid the crash?

The best thing you can do to sell that change is to do it. And then, if it does come up, you can say with confidence that you've done it yourself. That it took you an afternoon, and that it's no big deal. Act like it's the most sensible, obviousl thing in the world, because it is. Make it normal.

I know all of this because I actually did it myself a couple of months ago, and it didn't only take an afternoon, and it wasn't a big deal, and I've been waiting for the chance to write about it ever since.

In the desolate, hand-wringing wasteland of election shock, this is something you can actually do, a conversation you can actually have, and an change you can actually convince someone to make.

Because it's rational. It's easy. And all the cool kids are doing it.

Have I convinced you yet?

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