You've probably seen the TV ads by now proclaiming greener banking. I've stuck the full press release on the virtual forest scheme up on the Green Awards blog here as I think it speaks for itself.
I think it's really smart and also it's interesting that HSBC which last year was the bad boy of British banking in the popularity stakes (at least according to the qual research I did for the Co-operative bank at the time) is now leading the charge into sustainability. Personally, just as with Sky, Starbucks and even Tesco and Walmart, I've quite substantially revised my views of the company and the brand. Put simply I care more about them leading on this issue than I did about them being the exemplars of globalisation and corporateness. In the case of HSBC I know from people that worked there that the (originally) John Bond led revolution is long established and genuine. Good enough for me.
While we are on greener banking though FOE in Holland have launched a challenge to big banks including the generally well regarded ABN AMRO for funding climate unfriendly projects, notably coal fired power stations (story via Guardian). As usual the report concluded that if you want to bank with an unimpeachably green and ethical bank there is only one choice, Triodos For personal customers all they offer is savings and investments. Which actually is the only circumstance in which your money would directly be used in things you do/dont believe in I suppose, but you'd still need a high street operator to do your switch card & gas bills. They also do small business banking including an internet banking service.
For myself, I have been with HSBC ever since they were really good to us in the early stages of St Lukes. I did buy some quite pricey eco-car-insurance from the Co-operative bank too, out of a belated sense of client loyalty. I've never felt that it was one of those decisions where a change in supplier would make a huge big difference to the world (unlike for instance switcing to Ecotricity). I guess I dont feel that most of the rest of my life's decisions matches up to the absolute purity of a Triodos bank too (eg I've worked in marketing, and not all for NGOs). And actually the more of these schemes HSBC roll out the more I'm inclined to takle the lazy option & funnel ongoing stuff through them. I've never felt massively brand loyal (although I have always found the FD service excellent), but while they have such a clear lead on all this stuff over any other bank, at least in what they are claiming, it's probably the nearest thing to actual brand differentiation I've seen. It's very subjective, but what I'm saying is that I have a hunch that this is going to be commercially successful for them because people like me will increase our product holding with them, ie at least in financial terms have a relationship and exhibit signs of loyalty (if I am typical, which I may not be).
Declaration of interest. I met HSBC a few months ago to talk about them potentially backing a green social venture of mine. The fact that they gave it an interested hearing at quite a senior level seemed a good sign of their values in itself. I've also met recently with the marketing director of Co-operative bank, been in touch with people working with ABN AMRO in Brazil & so on. I dont think any of this has swayed my views as reported, but it's a good ethiquette to declare any such connections.