Survey: UK banks could lose millions of customers unless they get tougher on climate

A survey of more than 2,000 bank customers in the UK has found that more than one in ten would switch banks if they thought their choice of company was investing heavily in fossil fuels. The impact could be significant for big high-street brands, that could lose millions of customers each.

Survey: UK banks could lose millions of customers unless they get tougher on climate

Along with Barclays

The ‘Banks on Our Future’ survey, carried out on behalf of campaign group Market Forces, polled 1,000 Barclays customers and 1,000 people banking with HSBC.

Both banks have come under fire from climate campaigners and from shareholders in recent years over their investments in oil, gas, coal and tar sands. The Rainforest Action Network (RAN) claims that they have jointly invested more than £149bn in fossil fuels since the Paris Agreement was ratified in 2015.

Across the whole survey cohort of 2,000 people, 80% said they were not aware that their bank was investing in fossil fuels.

When they were made aware, more than one in ten (12.5%) said they would be “very likely” to switch banks. Market Forces claims that 12.5% of Barclays’ and HSBC’s UK customers is equivalent to some three million people.

“Customers have huge power this year because of the UN climate conference in Glasgow; banks that continue funding fossil fuels are going to face an exodus,” Market Forces’ UK campaigner Adam McGibbon said.

Last year marked the launch of a major new campaign designed to help Brits pressure their banks and pension fund providers to take stronger action on climate. The ‘Make My Money Matter’ campaign is spearheaded by Comic Relief co-founder Richard Curtis and supported by the likes of  Oxfam, WWF, BNP Paribas UK, Triodos Bank and the Environment Agency Pension Fund – one of the UK’s largest government pension schemes.

Growing pressure  

Aside from consumers, HSBC and Barclays were already facing mounting pressures from campaign groups and their own shareholders.

Earlier this month, investors with a combined $2.4trn in assets under management filed a resolution at HSBC, calling on the bank to publish a strategy that outlines efforts to reduce exposure to fossil fuel assets. HSBC had already committed to reaching net-zero financed emissions by 2050 and outlined plans to finance at least $750bn of low-carbon activities within a decade. However, ShareAction claims that in that HSBC funnelled $1.8bn into fossil fuel companies in the build-up to the announcement.

As for Barclays, the bank pledged to become a net-zero business by 2050 last year, under new a new climate policy which covers both direct operations and finance allocated externally.The move was taken after months of media coverage of environmental protests and a string of climate-related shareholder resolutions were filed.  

Sarah George

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