Bank Wiser International

Introduction: Race to the Top

The aim of the tool is to initiate a ‘race to the top’ between banks on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Ideally, a self-reinforcing process will develop in which social, environmental and economic standards are raised continuously. Ultimately resulting in sustainable investments all over the world. The Fair Bank Guide contributes to large banks’ CSR policy and transparency on a wide variety of issues, benefiting a wide audience. It stimulates consumers to critically compare their own bank’s CSR policy with that of other banks and to address their bank regarding the shortcomings in its CSR policy.

“BankWiser” is a web-based tool enabling bank clients to make their bank more socially responsible, fair, and sustainable by benchmarking them on some twenty themes and sectors. The initiative is the first of its kind to systematically assess banks’ management of sustainability and poverty-related issues. The tool has become very successful in promoting awareness and has resulted in direct improvements in the banks’ practices.

The BankWiser assesses banks’ policy on various social, economic and environmental sectors and issues such as climate change, human rights, labour rights, arms trade, transparency and sectors like oil/gas, fishery, banking etc. The database is accessible to the general public at no cost. The initiators of the Fair Bank Guide focus on these activities:

  • Assess the banks’ policies every year and giving scores for each policy;
  • Compare the policies with empirical case studies and draw conclusions about the extent to which the banks follow their own policies;
  • Involve consumers through (social) media in critically assessing the policy of their bank, and stimulate them to put pressure on their bank for more sustainable investments and accountability.

The Dutch Fair Bank Guide was formally launched on 22 January 2009. It is an initiative commissioned by Oxfam Novib, Amnesty International Netherlands, Dutch labour union FNV and Friends of the Earth Netherlands. From 2010 on the initiative became formally supported by the Dutch Society for the Protection of Animals, and in 2012 PAX (formerly IKV Pax Christi) became the 6th formal supporter of the Fair Bank Guide.

The research is done by the economic research consultancy Profundo. The VBDO (Dutch Association of Investors for Sustainable Development) functions as advisor to the Fair Bank Guide initiative. Banktrack’s December 2007 report ‘Mind the Gap’ served as inspiration for this initiative. 


Results and Impact

The Dutch Fair Bank Guide started in 2009 in reaction to widespread outrage over banks’ investments in the weapon industry; mainly investments in companies that manufacture controversial weapons, like cluster bombs, and sell arms to rogue states. In the following four years it contributed to over 100 measurable changes in banks’ policy – not only in arms trade policy but also on human rights, climate and policy with regard to bonuses. In addition, valuable steps have been made in terms of investors’ commitments to improve sustainability of their investments.

In the first 3,5 years an approximate 338.178 people visited the website. In total almost 13.000 people have sent messages to their banks asking them to improve their policies and better their practice. Between January 2009 and January 2012 approximately 22.000 people have clicked the ‘cross-over to another bank’-button. Whether or not these visitors actually changed from bank is difficult to measure.

  • Three months after the Dutch BankWiser came into being, several banks had taken several steps to improve, tighten and better apply their policy on controversial arms trade.
  • After nearly 4 years of Dutch BankWiser all banks have in total implemented over 100 policy changes. 
  • In 2009 the CEOs of all banks benchmarked in the Fair Bank Guide published a common statement "Dutch banks call for clear agreements on sustainable energy ". In this statement all banks stressed the importance of more investments in sustainable energy. In their statement they stressed the fact that they have all signed the ‘Copenhagen Communiqué’, were willing to cooperate in a study on sustainable energy of the Fair Bank Guide and also called on the Dutch Government to introduce a long-term and clear (legal) system that encourages investments in sustainable energy projects. 
  • In 2010 we took stock of the percentages that Dutch banks invested in sustainable energy between 2007-2009. Two years later (2012), we did the same for investments in energy between 2010-2011. This showed that investments in sustainable energy increased to 96% of their total investments in energy.

Our research is based on a methodology which explains the state of affairs of each theme and sector (e.g. climate change and human rights) and also describes what a good bank policy should contain. Want to read the methodology?

The Future: internationalising the BankWiser

The six initiators have decided to continue to work for the Dutch Eerlijke Bankwijzer until 2015 at least. From 2012, we will keep updating the scores of the banks in the Dutch Fair Bank Guide every year and will continue to publish three new case studies annually. The organizations hope that the success of this practical tool will inspire partner organizations around the world to develop their own Fair Bank Guides for banks operating in their countries.

Brasil Fair Bank Guide

Brazil is the first country after the Netherlands with a Fair Bank Guide. The launch of the Guia dos Bancos Responsáveis (GBR) took place in São Paulo on April 2011. The Brazilian Fair Bank Guide compares the policies and financing practices of banks and in this manner tries to encourage banks’ corporate social responsibility. GBR is the initiative of the Brazilian consumers’ organization IDEC, the trade union federation in the banking sector, CONTRAF, the allied research institute, the Instituto Observatório Social, and environmental organization Terra Amazonia Brasileira. ‘It’s the first time in Brazil,’ tells Peter Ras, spokesman of the Fair Bank Guide in the Netherlands, ‘that such different sectors in society have co-operated in developing a joint product.

Fair Bank Guide in the Media

There was extensive media coverage in The Netherlands about the launch of the Fair Bank Guide (January 2009) and all three anniversaries (January 2010, 2011, 2012). Several quarter updates also attracted a lot of media attention, particularly in April 2009, October 2009 and July 2010 (when bank policies on “bonuses” was included in the Dutch Fair Bank Guide, at the request of many Fair Bank Guide – users). Furthermore, several case studies attracted good media coverage (particularly the case studies on controversial arms traders and human rights, but also the case studies about investments in sustainable energy, the garment sector, investments in companies linked with human rights abuses, transparency and land acquisition).

International media:

Reuters, July 1, 2009:
Dutch banks still invest in arms companies - report

3 News, Nieuw Zeeland, July 2, 2009:
Dutch banks still investing in arms?

Interested in joining?

In collaboration with different parties we are pursuing the internationalisation of the Fair Bank Guide. Several organisations in different countries have shown genuine interest in starting up a BankWiser in their country. To know more about how your organisation can join the initiative, please contact:

More information about the Fair Bank Guide:

Mr. Peter Ras, Policy Advisor CSR

Phone Oxfam Novib: +31 70-3421621