Green America: Growing the Green Economy for People and the Planet

Community Investing

Economic action to build sustainable communities worldwide

January 2011

How Darilyn Kotzenberg
Broke Up With Her Bank

Kotzenberg

It’s been almost five years since Green America member Darilyn Kotzenberg’s big break-up, and she’s never looked back. Asked if there have been any negatives or draw-backs to packing up and moving on, she answers simply: “Nope.” She’s happy with her new relationship, and the truth is, at the point of the break-up, she was completely fed up.

The year was 2006 and Kotzenberg was sincerely disappointed with Citibank, as she’d been in the past with other “mega-banks,” like when she’d switched to Citi from Wells Fargo a few years before. Facing irreconcilable differences over everything from big-picture philosophy to just common courtesy, Kotzenberg found the only solution was to part ways, so she canceled her Citibank checking and savings accounts.

“Plain and simple it was the lack of respect,” she says about the motivation for the break-up. “They really only care about people who have large sums of money in their accounts … The tiny print in the contracts, the charges if you’re overdrawn; it’s unbelievable. They’ll let you take money out if you don’t have it, and then hit you with the monstrous fees. That kind of stuff. I just wanted a bank that isn’t mean. I wanted to be treated fairly.”

So, Kotzenberg went looking for a smaller bank – a local community bank that would match her values better. When she found San Francisco’s New Resource Bank, she says she not only found a bank that matches her green values, but a bank that treats her with respect.

“I think I pushed 0-0-0-0-0 right in the woman’s ear the first time I called the bank, because I automatically assumed I was in a phone maze,” says Kotzenberg. “They actually answer their phone! They remember me, they e-mail me, and they help me.”

Even still, Kotzenberg says the friendly, personal service was actually her secondary reason for making the switch. The first reason was because New Resource Bank pursues green projects in their lending, something Kotzenberg wanted to support, as a next step in the overall journey of greening her own lifestyle.

As the creative director of her own graphic design studio, Kotzenberg produces graphic design projects for organic-food and green-building companies. At home, she says she’s slowly turning her space into a “green Mecca,” currently working on installing a greenhouse that will use worm composting and aquaponics to help her grow her own food. This latest green step builds upon other recent green steps she’s taken: to stop purchasing items packaged in plastic (“It’s led to more cooking, which is fun”), and to take all trips shorter than 40 miles by bicycle or on foot.

So, if Kotzenberg can go the extra mile to be green at home, she wants a bank that won’t take her green-earned dollars and use them to finance projects she can’t countenance. By contrast, New Resource Bank lends only to businesses committed to sustainability, and offers loans dedicated to solar and energy-efficiency projects. What’s more, New Resource carbon-offsets all employee commuting and travel; recycles, reuses or composts about 95 percent of its waste; and the offices are LEED Gold-certified.

Finally, Kotzenberg points out that while she no longer lives in the Bay Area, New Resource Bank’s hometown, she still finds banking with them to be convenient and easy, via online banking, direct deposits, mailing checks to the bank, and communicating via e-mail. So, even if you don’t live in an area with a community banking option just around the corner, you can still “break up” with a mega-bank that’s all wrong for you, and find a community bank that matches your values.

Find more community development banks in the online PDF version of our Community Investing Guide, also available for purchase as a print magazine. A clickable list of resources begins on page 20.

 

New Resource Bank’s financing gave Jason Tanko, owner of Tanko Streetlighting Services, the capital he needed to start his business providing energy-efficient lighting retrofits to cities around the country. (PHOTO: New Resources Bank)

 

 


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