When you use this new debit card from Aspiration, a bank that calls itself a “financial firm with a conscience,” you’ll get extra cash-back rewards when you shop at businesses that have been found to have the best sustainability practices and most employee-friendly policies.
The bank already offered its customers a personal sustainability score, using tens of thousands of data points to rank businesses on issues like whether they’ve invested in renewable energy, or whether employees have access to healthcare–so as you shop, it’s possible to see how much of your money is flowing to companies in alignment with your values. But it wanted to go further. The result is the new Spend & Save account.
“The American consumer spends $36 billion a day, and that’s an enormously powerful lever to make change,” says Andrei Cherny, CEO of Aspiration. “I think we started to empower people to do so just by giving them information . . . now we’re taking the next step and actually giving them incentives to make those more conscious spending decisions and reward them for doing so.”
On any transaction, the account offers a half percent back–an unusual offering at a time when typically only credit card customers get cash-back rewards. But shopping at more sustainable businesses offers a 1% reward. In a year, the bank calculates, an average consumer will make $545.
Aspiration is the first digital-only bank to become independent from a third-party sponsor, a process that it completed over the last year and a half. Because it now has its own FDIC-insured brokerage cash management account, it was able to design a bank account exactly as it wanted. “Banks aren’t known for really offering great interest rates and haven’t been offering cash back rewards to customers,” Cherny says. “We have the freedom and flexbility to do that now and to build this the right way.” The account offers up to 2% annual interest on deposits (JPMorgan Chase, as one comparison, offers 0.01% to its checking account customers). There are no fees, apart from a “pay what is fair” fee that customers can set to zero if they choose; 10% of the bank’s profits go to charity.
The bank’s own investments also avoid fossil fuels. Big banks, according to a 2018 report from one nonprofit, invested more than $115 billion in coal mining, tar sands development, and other fossil fuels in 2017. (Here’s some tips on how to ditch your big bank.) Many customers come to Aspiration, Cherny says, because they’ve realized that “their own deposits are being used to fund hundreds of billions of dollars of extreme fossil-fuel projects that are destroying our planet.”