I’ve been subscribed to Make My Money Matter for a while. It’s a movement started by Comic Relief co-founder Richard Curtis - he of Four Weddings and a Funeral fame – and is trying to put pressure on pension funds to influence financial institutions to only invest in things that protect our future, as in they are environmentally and biodiversity friendly.
They are having some success as banks like Lloyds, HSBC and RBS/NatWest have all pledged to stop funding new fossil fuel projects, but there’s still a long way to go as illustrated by their latest climate report from November 2022. Nevertheless, with celebrity endorsements from the likes of Emma Thompson and Stephen Fry, a movement is happening to create change or, should I say, another activist movement (remember Gail Bradbrook and Extinction Rebellion?). So, I reached out to the charity to find out more about their work and was delighted to interview David Hayman, their campaign director and a seasoned professional in campaigning and international development.
I was at a meeting with a pension fund where the pension fund manager said, what’s the point of running a pension if there’s no one to pay a pension to in 50 years? Is that the starting point of where Make My Money Matter comes from.
Absolutely. The campaign was set up to tackle two interlinked problems. The first was a growing awareness and engagement on climate and environmental issues from the public. This covers everything from the food we eat to the clothes we wear, to how we travel, to how we recycle. However, there was a real disconnect between how we think about our money as a vehicle for impact in the world around this.
Most people have a fundamental lack of understanding around money. Many have poor financial literacy, and particularly when it comes to pensions. People assume it just sits in a bank vault somewhere in Switzerland, slowly accruing interest and, if they’re lucky, they get to cash it out in forty or fifty years’ time. But the reality is that we don’t know if our money is being invested for better or worse.
Our campaign is all about helping people understand the impact of their money and how helping them think that if they are saving for retirement, what kind of retirement is their money saving for? What kind of world is it building? If I’m entering into the workforce today and starting to pay into a pension, we need to ask: is my money building a world fit for my retirement? Is it safe for my retirement and safe for my children’s retirement? Or is it actively jeopardizing that? We’re trying to highlight that kind of contradiction, that tension and get the public to realise that their money is one of the most powerful tools they have to shape the world.
The second challenge we’re trying to address is the need for greater mobilisation of private finance to tackle the climate, biodiversity and ecological crises we face. So, when we were setting up we knew, there was a significant funding gap to meet the Paris Climate Agreement and deliver on our climate goals. That wasn’t going to come from government or from NGOs. Therefore, there was a need to mobilise the money in private capital, particularly big investors like pension funds and banks, to ensure that more money is going towards the solutions for the problems we’re facing, and not funding the causes. Which, coincidently, is what the public want.
In November you produced a report about the progress that was being made, and none of the pension funds you surveyed have any explicit policies around ending fossil fuel expansion. Why is that?
There’s increasing consensus now that the ongoing expansion activities undertaken by fossil fuel companies are bad for people, bad the planet, and financially very dangerous too because of the risk of stranded assets.
But this is a relatively recent consensus and so there is a bit of the industry catching up with this, with this alignment, with this agreement, both environmentally and economically. This is why it needs to be elevated and escalated as a key priority area. That’s why we’re campaigning for the pensions industry to rule out financing for any new fossil fuel expansion.
There’s also a need to understand the practicalities of how pension funds manage money; how they’re invested; how they’re invested in big index climate linked funds, as opposed to directly investing company to company to company. Equally, there is the challenge of disentangling from those fossil fuel companies if they decide they want to take action.
There is then a need to really look at the transition plans of some of the big oil majors, who may be saying that they are 1.5 degree aligned or that they are making real progress towards climate change, but aren’t clear around the impacts of their expansion activity.
All in all we need to bridge the knowledge gap to start with, show there is public pressure and expectations on this issue, support pension funds with clear guidance to assess the transition plans of oil and gas companies, and then ensure escalate their action if they continue to develop new oil and gas fields.
Is the attitude changing amongst the finance financial institutions?
Definitely. On the pension side, we haven’t got any explicit targets from the industry yet, but that’s something we’ll be campaigning for this year. On the banking side, we launched a campaign directly calling for the big five UK high street banks to stop financing fossil fuel expansion activities.
Since we launched, three of the big five banks have made commitments in this regard - NatWest, Lloyds and HSBC. Those commitments are to varying degrees of quality and with certain loopholes but each involves ruling out direct forfinance new oil and gas activities, which is a big shift from 12 months ago.
That’s a real sea change and there’s a real momentum building around this. And that’s what I said earlier about the consensus coming together around this point for NatWest, for Lloyd’s and for HSBC to act on this. They are mainstream financial institutions. These aren’t fringe positions now. So, there’s a real acknowledgement across the mainstream financial industry that we shouldn’t be financing new oil and gas.
The next challenge comes with those banks who now may not be financing the direct project, but they are still providing general corporate finance to those fossil fuel companies. This means that, by proxy, they are supporting and enabling their expansion activities, even if they’re not directly financing expansion. So that’s the next target
In general, there has been progress on the first part of our ask, which is stopping direct finance for new projects, but now we are calling for them to push those companies they continue to finance to stop expanding overall.
You missed out Barclays?
Like I said, with NatWest, Lloyd’s and HSBC all coming out publicly in the last three or four months around this issue, admittedly imperfectly but at least progressively, we think there’s good movement there. For Barclays on their annual results day just last week we thought there was a chance that they were gonna go further on their climate agenda, but they haven’t done. We think they are lagging behind the rest of the industry.
And consequently, you may have seen over the last few days or so that there’s been quite a big civil society movement specifically targeting Barclays Bank. This is for two reasons: (a) because they’re falling behind; and (b) because, in absolute terms, they are one of Europe’s biggest financers of the fossil fuel industry overall. So they are a huge influence in this space and they are furthest behind as well. They’ve got a lot to do to catch up and the public are starting to take notice – so expect more direct action targeting Barclays as long as they continue to finance fossil fuel expansion.
If you go to a bank like Barclays and met the CEO, they would say: but I make a lot of money out of fossil fuel lending and investment in things that are environmentally detrimental and, more importantly, it makes no difference to my customer because they don’t move, they don’t switch, they don’t care.
That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to make people care. We’re trying to make people take action. I know there have been campaigns and actions targeting banks in the past, but I think there’s a real sea change in how people, businesses and corporate customers consider their money as a vehicle for impact. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here.
In the past, these activities could have been considered a bit of a fringe movement. What our campaign is trying to do is make it mainstream. We are trying to ensure that when you’re thinking about the impact you can have on the world, one of the top choices you consider is your money, your banking choices, your pension choices, your investment choices. This is not just on an individual level but, if you are a business or NGO, that you ensure you have a sustainability plan or a set of organisational values or climate targets. This is to make sure that the money in your corporate account or in your pensions are complimenting, and not undermining, those sustainability plans or strategies.
And I think the more we can change consciousness around the role of money in tackling climate change, the more we can elevate banks and pension funds, the more spotlight will be shone on Barclays Bank and their equivalents.
Bear in mind, this is a serious long-term movement and it may not be hitting your bottom line today, but in the next six months or more it will be reputationally, and in terms of people switching and moving.
Make My Money Matter was started by Richard Curtis and has some great ambassadors, like Emma Thompson and Steven Fry. I’m guessing the celebrity endorsement brings the audience and the movement to the head of media and the head of people’s thinking.
Absolutely. We are obviously in the fortunate position that Richard brings his skills, experiences, network, contacts, which certainly helps to elevate this issue. And that’s something we want to leverage. We are in a fortunate position to get people like Stephen Fry and Emma Thompson to sign up to our open letter, which makes it a more interesting story to the media, at least, and gets it out further. We’re also trying to bring together different coalitions. The open letter we did for the banks a couple of weeks ago, to support our campaign, was a great example of that. It had Steve Fry, Aisling Bea, Emma Thompson, Chris Packham and others (see https://makemymoneymatter.co.uk/dear-ceos/). It also had Christiana Figueres, one of the architects of the Paris Climate Agreement, and we had Greenpeace UK, Just Oil, Save the Children and a range of NGO support. We had businesses like Ecosia, Ella’s Kitchen, Riverford Organic and others and, as well as academics and thought leaders around this.
So we don’t just want to play to the celebrity angle. It’s trying to get all of the angles to bring this to the mainstream. It is to make this a key issue for academics, businesses, NGOs, celebrities and the public. Then, ultimately, bring banks into this as well, and show them that this is a mainstream topic that they should take seriously, because people across all walks of life care and are passionate about it, and are demanding better.
Are there any synergies between what you are doing and Extinction Rebellion?
I think, in terms of the ask, there absolutely are. For example, their national Day of Action in April is calling for an end to fossil fuel expansion and we are calling for an end to the financing of fossil fuel expansion. The overall aims have a lot of commonality.
We are approaching it tactically in a slightly different way, as we are focusing predominantly on banks and pension funds, so our entry point is slightly different.
But in terms of the overall direction, there’s a lot of alignment there.
On a scale of one to 10, how do you think we’re doing in terms of making change, getting things moving?
Yeah, it’s a really good question. I think if we had an extra 20 years, we’d be doing pretty well <laugh>. As we don’t, I don’t think we’re doing well enough at all.
In the finance sector, there is change happening. There’s energy around it; there’s new thinking; there’s new ways of doing business; there is a realization of the need to change and transform. There’s energy, there’s good staff coming in, there’s leadership around it, and the public really want to make their money matter. It’s just taking too long.
It’s not being implemented at the speed or scale needed to address the absolute urgency and emergency we are facing. That’s the problem for me.
So if you’re talking to the CEO of a bank or pension fund today, what would you say?
The first thing is to stop financing any new oil and gas projects, and not just make that decision privately but to publicly come out and lead on it. State your reasons why, and redirect the money towards climate solutions. The absolute impact of something like that would be significant. The signaling power of them coming out and publicly taking a stance in this, and publicly leading along with some of the other banks, could be transformative in how the finance industry and the world looks at the role of fossil fuel expansion in the future.
This isn’t to say there’s not a place for fossil fuels in the transition over the next twenty years. We know that there will be, but this is to say that there is a real acceptance of the need, urgency and importance of taking a strong position on saying we can do this without investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure now.
For the banks and pension funds who have already made such a commitment, what should their priority be?
It’s about putting pressure on the fossil fuel companies, who they’re still investing in, to stop their expansion activities. Using their investor power, using their clout and influence, to say: look, we’ve ruled out financing your new projects and you now need to stop doing that activity, regardless of whether we’re financing or not. Otherwise we wont be able to continue supporting you.
Because why as a bank would you accept financing fossil fuel expansion is bad – and prohibit it – yet continue to finance a company who was expanding?
I looked at your profile and was surprised to see that you worked with Citibank at the start. How has your view of the world changed over those years from starting with the bank through to where you are now?
Radically. I was very fortunate to get an internship placement in New York when I was 21, and was placed at Citibank. With fresh eyes straight out of university and without any experience or knowledge of the world. It was a, a very powerful experience to be in New York, working in the finance industry in 2007, 2008 during the, the turmoil of the financial crisis. So I learned a lot, but would never do it again <laugh>. It was a great thing to have that experience but, since then, I focused predominantly on social purposes issues and social causes. I’ve worked in domestic and international NGOs in the UK and around the world, and that’s my passion and what I want to do.
And your biggest achievement,
Helping set up Make My Money Matter. I was the first employee here, almost three and a half years ago, and am really proud of what we have done here. Launching a campaign on pensions at the heigh of covid has not been easy!
So how did that happen?
I was working at the One campaign before this. As part of our work I got to know Richard Curtis, who was working with Project Everyone, which is an organization which helps promote the SDGs. I met him and his co-founder at the time that they were setting up Make My Money Matter,
After I got to know him and the others who were helping to formulate the campaign, they asked if I’d like to help get it off the ground. I was very excited to do so, and it’s definitely the proudest thing I’ve done my career.
Amazing. Well, I’m a great admirer of what you’re trying to achieve. Between you and Extinction Rebellion and others, I think there is a way in which we can change the world. My stance is technology and finance can change the world. There’s an awful lot of technology startup companies, particularly in what we call FinTech that are focused upon renewables and carbon emissions and giving back and paying it forward. If there’s anything I can ever do to help, just shout.
Nice one. I appreciate that, and really nice to speak to you today.
Your banks are in a dangerous relationship with fossil fuel companies, putting our futures in jeopardy and the planet at risk. Now is the time for that relationship to end.
That’s why we’re calling on the UK’s leading banks to stop financing fossil fuel expansion.
In 2021, the International Energy Agency – the world’s most influential energy body – announced that there should be no investment in new oil, gas, or coal if we are to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, meet the Paris Climate Goals and avoid climate catastrophe. Instead, we must focus on phasing out fossil fuels, and the rapid scaling up of a clean energy transition.
Despite this, your banks – HSBC, Barclays, Santander, NatWest, and Lloyds – funnelled a collective $368 billion into the fossil fuel sector between 2016 and 2021, of which $141bn has gone to the top 50 oil and gas expanders.
These decisions are not only contradicting our values, they’re also jeopardising our futures.
That’s why we are asking you to stop financing fossil fuel expansion by taking the following key steps:
- Stop directly financing new fossil fuel expansion activity.
- Put your existing clients on notice that they must stop their expansion plans or face financing consequences.
- End relationships with those clients who do not stop fossil fuel expansion.
If you fail to act, then we will – campaigning for you to change, raising awareness with the public, or – for those who haven’t already – moving to a bank that doesn’t finance fossil fuel expansion.
Do you think your reputation will remain unscathed when we can’t rely on you to protect our futures?
Don’t bank on it.
Caroline Lucas, MP
Dr Mya-Rose Craig
Kim Stanley Robinson
All Things Money
Bank on our future
Climate Safe Lending Network
Count Us In
Ecology Building Society
Faith for Climate
Finance Innovation Lab
Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland
Fuel Poverty Action
Good With Money
Just Stop Oil
Keep Britain Tidy
Make My Money Matter
Mothers Rise Up
Music Declares Emergency
New Economics Foundation
One Million Women
Rainforest Action Network
Save The Children UK
SHE Changes Climate
The Big Issue Group
The Climate Coalition
The Lamington Group
The Movements Trust
The National Federation of Women’s Institutes
XR Money Rebellion
For more information, please feel free to contact David Hayman – firstname.lastname@example.org
Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, TheFinanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal's Financial News. To learn more click here...