Online banking: how ethics becomes a marketing strategy?
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Online banking: how ethics becomes a marketing strategy?

In recent history, the reputation of banks has deteriorated sharply as major scandals have come to light. Dubious, even illegal practices and the purchase and sale of toxic securities came to light, particularly during the subprime crisis of 2008. Having started in the United States, it then contaminated the world and marked the entry of many country in a deep recession.

Consequently, the public authorities decided to strengthen their legislative armada and to force banking establishments to adopt new practices, particularly in terms of vigilance and KYC (third-party identity verification). This movement is, moreover, accompanied by the banking world itself, in the light of new actors (“ethical banks”) and initiatives taken by traditional banks.

A boon for the actors concerned? Find out how the need for ethics in the banking world contributes to a new marketing strategy.

Ethical banks, a revival in favor of solidarity and ecological actions

They are called Hélios, La Nef or Le Crédit Coopératif: these online banks so-called ethics promote the quality and impact of investments. The term ethics can cover several realities:

  • Ecological: investments are oriented towards new clean energies and a cost of the carbon footprint of the various projects is carried out upstream to guide the strategy. Typically, fossil fuels, agrofuels and nuclear are excluded from their investments.
  • Solidarity: a solidarity bank is transparent about its investments and informs its members about the loans granted. It can also offer products at attractive prices, such as the Banque Postale. Finally, it implements concrete policies within the company, for example by limiting the difference between the lowest salary and the highest salary.
  • Financial: the bank can decide to refuse to participate in the traditional financial system, for example by not having recourse to the financial markets and by operating on equity, or even by dividing the ownership of the bank equally among all.

As you can see, there are a multitude of types of ethical banks, and one should not, for example, confuse a solidarity bank with a cooperative bank. A cooperative bank is owned by its members and has no shareholders, but is not necessarily ethical. Conversely, a solidarity bank often combines the two parameters. In addition, of course, depending on the actors in question, ethical practices vary.

Moreover, ethical banks often want to involve their clients in their investment actions. They are invited, for example, to vote for the cultural, solidarity or ecological projects that the bank must support. Some also give the possibility of directly choosing the project with certain products.

Without being exhaustive, here are the main ethical banks in France with their specificity:

  • La Nef: this cooperative founded in 1979 only supports ethical projects and publishes a list of the loans granted each year, for a 100% transparency objective.
  • Cooperative credit: the members (customers) of the bank are the decision-makers in equal shares and an “Acting” booklet is made available to finance ethical projects.
  • Hélios: an ethical mobile bank, Hélios is a French initiative launched in 2021 with the aim of “cleaning up the bank” thanks to green investments only.

Behind this stride of good intentions, let's keep in mind that the goal of a business is obviously to make a profit; a new paid marketing strategy?

Ethics in banking, from a moral imperative to a profitable marketing strategy?

The marketing interest for banks to get involved is obvious: it responds and is anchored more broadly in a context of corporate accountability. Since the end of the Glorious Thirties and the publication of the Meadows report to the Club of Rome in 1972 “The Limits to Growth”, society has gradually become aware of the environmental and social damage caused by a “steamroller” economy.

The initiatives have gradually been transformed into legislative acts, as evidenced by the famous "Corporate Social Responsibility", and more recently the imperatives of duty of vigilance.
First of all, therefore, ethical banking is also an effective marketing strategy, because it is part of what seems to be the direction of the story, towards greater economic responsibility.

Then, this awareness has won over the citizens, who are obviously the consumers of traditional banking products. More and more eager not to be associated with dubious and illegal practices, they pay more attention to the ethics of their consumption choices. In this context, the growing pressure exerted by public opinion is obviously pushing companies (including banks) in the direction of ethics.

For committed customers, cooperatives, associations and mutuals, even SMEs handicapped by the traditional banking circuit, these ethical banks therefore become obvious choices.

Although these players are still very much in the minority in the French landscape, the effectiveness of the “ethical” marketing strategy is well established. Moreover, far from refusing the change, many traditional banks support it. Despite a transformation denounced as too slow by many NGOs, these banks are evolving.

For example, Crédit Agricole assesses the carbon impact of the projects it finances, while Crédit Mutuel offers ETZ loans (zero-rate eco-loans) to finance energy-saving work.

Some initiatives are also carried out jointly by the company and the law, and the case of Banque Postale is instructive. Since the law of modernization of the economy of 2008, it is the only bank to have a banking accessibility mission. La Banque Postale is therefore required by law to offer its products to as many people as possible, like a livret A which is much less restrictive on the conditions for withdrawing and depositing cash, for example.