When it comes to business banking, the big High Street banks lead the charge – 83 per cent of the main accounts of small and medium-sized businesses are held by the ‘Big 5’. These are Barclays, Lloyds Banking Group, Santander, HSBC, and Natwest.
Unfortunately, these big name banks are the top culprits for investing in practices that are harmful to the environment such as fossil fuels, tobacco, oil, or arms production.
According to Make My Money Matter, a campaign led by Love Actually director Richard Curtis, the Big 5 banks have provided a massive $37 billion (£29.7 billion) to fossil fuel companies in the last 12 months.
In contrast, ethical banks have greener investment and lending policies and pay their fair share of tax.
While still harder to find than ethical personal current accounts, green business banking alternatives DO exist in the UK.
It doesn’t have to be a hassle to move your business account for good. If you own a small or medium-sized businesses with less than 50 employees and a turnover of up to £6.5 million, the Current Account Switch Service will take care of everything for you.
The providers below rank highly on the ethical stakes. All are covered under Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), meaning your assets are protected up to £85,000.
1. Unity Trust Bank
If you’re a socially-minded business, chances are you’ll like Unity Trust Bank. While its ethical strategy is not as strict as Triodos Bank (which no longer offers business accounts for new customers), it has a clear aim to prioritise social good.
It uses deposits made by your business to fund lending that supports the communities that you and it collectively serve. This means that by banking with Unity Trust Bank (the number one bank for Trade Unions), you are helping to contribute to economic, community and social change.
In 2022, the bank provided £224.4 million in lending to 154 socially-minded organisations across the UK that are contributing to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Unity Trust Bank offers fast, secure and easy-to-use online banking with the option to set up single, dual and triple authority of payments.
It does not, however, offer a debit card for its business current accounts. You can pay in, or withdraw cash from your local NatWest (England and Wales) or RBS (Scotland).
Unity Trust Bank has also partnered with Lloyds Bank (a ‘Big Five’ bank that doesn’t have such squeaky clean sustainability credentials) to offer a Unity Corporate MultiPay Card – a charge card that is subject to credit approval.
The bank offers three business current accounts, according to annual turnover. There is a monthly fee of £6 (charged quarterly) and the minimum opening deposit is £500.
2. Cumberland Building Society
The Cumberland is a building society based in Cumbria. It offers business current accounts to customers living in Cumbria, South West Scotland, West Northumberland and North Lancashire. It has two business account options, depending on your type of business and the value of your daily transactions. Its business banking calculator will help you work out which one is best for you.
Cumberland’s business account offers a debit card, standing orders and direct debits, free daily cash withdrawal up to £300 per day (or £500 at its branches), online banking, and an arranged overdraft facility with a 12.73 (variable EAR) per cent fee, per year. It supports the UK’s leading online accounting software, Xero, and offers an e-savings account to its business online banking customers.
Its building society status means it does not invest its members’ money in stocks and shares. Therefore, many of the issues normally associated with ethical investment do not apply to it. Cumberland gives 1.5 per cent of its profits to charity. It uses 100 per cent renewable energy in its offices and aims to be a carbon neutral business by 2030.
Cumberland’s business accounts come with a monthly fee (from free to £3-5 per month depending on the account you choose) and other charges – so check these carefully before you proceed. The building society is currently offering 12 months’ free banking to businesses with a turnover up to £250,000 per year (t&c’s apply).
Top 6 ethical current accounts
App-based bank Monzo – which scooped Best Business Banking Provider at the British Bank Awards in 2022 – says it takes pride in being a socially responsible business.
It invests its customer deposits “safely and ethically”, does not engage in any artificial tax planning, and has “a zero tolerance approach to modern slavery and human trafficking“.
Monzo is transparent about where it invests customers’ money and the majority of deposits are held at central banks. It says: “Our investments are only in safe, high quality government bonds and quasi-government bonds (such as development banks).” Crucially, it does not invest in fossil-fuel based energy companies, arms companies or tobacco companies.
As a branchless, digital bank, Monzo has a relatively low carbon footprint, and it has a goal of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2030.
Monzo offers a business “Lite” account which has no monthly fee and gives you the basics such as making card payments with a business debit card, free UK bank transfers, and the ability to create “pots” to separate your money. For £5 per month, its “Pro” account also offers features such as tax pots, integrated accounting, multi-user access (for limited companies) and “exclusive offers”.
Monzo recently launched Business Instant Access Savings, which allows business owners to grow their savings while having quick access to their money.
4. Starling Bank
App-based bank Starling expressly avoids investing in fossil fuels, mining, arms and military, and instead invests in “government securities and other high quality liquid assets”.
Since Starling is a paperless, branchless bank, its carbon footprint is significantly lower than some of its competitors.
Starling’s basic business current account comes with no monthly fees or UK payment charges, free 24/7 customer support, and integration with Xero, Quickbook and FreeAgent accounting softwares. You can then customise your account with paid-for add-ons such as a ‘Business Toolkit’ to streamline your bookkeeping, and linked multi-currency business accounts. It’s an nice approach which means you pay for what you need.
It is worth noting, however, that despite its longstanding opposition to fossil fuels, in March 2021 Starling accepted funding from Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund. The fund was set up in 2005 to invest Qatar’s substantial oil and natural gas revenues around the world.
A spokesman for Starling Bank said that “one of the key roles of QIA is to reduce Qatar’s dependence on revenues derived from oil and gas and to expand investment into non-hydrocarbon sectors. That’s one reason why it has been investing in a range of well-known British brands in addition to Starling.”
Starling recently launched a One-Year Business Fixed Saver account for its small business customers.
Read our review of the Starling Bank current account
Tide offers business current accounts provided by Clear Bank to companies of all shapes and sizes, including freelancers, small and limited businesses and those scaling up. Tide helps to support small businesses by offering free business current accounts that you can then upgrade as your business grows.
Your Tide account will automatically tag your income and spending, with customisable labels to suit your company. You can upload receipts, auto-match them to transactions, and add a digital note if you wish. You can link to accountancy software like Xero, QuickBooks and Sage, and send, pay and track your invoices all in the app.
While a starter account is free, upgrading to £9.99 a month will get you one free expense card and 20 free transfers in and out per month. A ‘Cashback’ account, which costs £49.99 a month comes, with three free expense cards, 150 free transactions, and 0.5 per cent cash back on your Tide card. You can find out more about account options and pricing here.
The money in your Tide account is held in a secure ring-fenced account. This account is not used for any type of investments therefore your money is safe, and not used to invest in harmful industries.
6. Co-operative Bank
The Co-operative Bank took a major hit to its ethical reputation when it was bailed out by a giant US hedge fund in 2017.
However, it still has a solid, customer-led ethical policy. It will not provide banking services to organisations that conflict with its customers’ views on a comprehensive range of issues including human rights, environmental stability, international development and animal welfare, or those involved in irresponsible gambling or payday lending.
We’re committed to not providing banking services to businesses and organisations that conflict with our Ethical Policy.
It says: “We’ve previously stopped an organisation from joining The Co-operative Bank on the grounds of their involvement with fossil fuel extraction, and declined services to businesses that conflict with our stance on human rights and animal welfare.” You can read its latest sustainability report here.
The Co-op also has a small (but diminishing) branch network and a co-operative union of customers. It offers a range of six business current accounts to suit the type and needs of your small business.
7. Reliance Bank
Reliance is part of The Salvation Army, and its mission is to “serve customers and communities with compassion and integrity”. As such, it is a bank with a socially responsible conscience. Reliance prioritises its business lending to organisations that are delivering positive social impact in the UK.
Its business current account is a simple and practical current account for managing day-to-day banking transactions. It comes with a Corporate Visa debit card and chequebook for making payments, dual i-bank authorisations if you need them, a paying-in book for making deposits at any branch of Natwest or RBS, and access to i-bank (internet banking) so you can view statements and make payments online.
Reliance topped the 2022 Charity Finance Banking Survey for customer satisfaction.
Its current account has a £5 monthly fee and there are also charges for facilities such as paying in cash or cheques and making debit card payments and cash withdrawals. You can see the full list of fees here.
Reliance also offers instant access and notice business savings accounts.
If you want to have a savings account, insurance policy, investment fund or mortgage from companies that do the right thing, check out our Good Eggs.
These are companies that have passed strict (independent) criteria to prove they make a positive impact – to the planet, society, and you.
If you’d like to find out more about the above providers, a Which? membership gives you access to in-depth, expert reviews, ‘Best Buys’ and ‘Don’t Buys.’
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