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Green Banking: Reality or Hype?

Once upon a time, the only thing green in banking was the cash. Now the financial industry has hopped aboard the Green Express - with mixed results.

Once upon a time, the only thing green in banking was the cash. Now the financial industry has hopped aboard the Green Express - with mixed results. The newly-released 2008 IBT Market Pulse Survey has attempted to identify and measure the types and amounts of greenness in the banking sector. So how is that working out?The problem is the appearance versus the reality of going green. Eighty six percent of the respondent bank executives recognize that green initiatives are important to their clientele. But less than one fifth of their institutions have any environmentally-friendly programs in place (except for paper reduction): 19 percent have eco-friendly car loans, 17 percent have eco-friendly home financing, and 8 percent have credit cards whose usage result in contributions to green initiatives. And customer use of these green services is reportedly "very modest."

Similarly, a whopping 90 percent of the bankers surveyed have paperless options like online applications and electronic statements. But just 16 percent say that a majority of their customers participate in the programs.

Is it a lack of consumer education? Or are banks merely basking in the sun of reflected greenness, capitalizing on a hot trend by adding green offerings?

The most promising survey results are in the area of physical facilities. Sixty eight percent of the respondents say "We realize the benefits of lowered operating costs" with green practices like energy-efficient lighting and planting trees to improve heating or cooling. Of those planning new building projects, 75 percent are considering green building materials and/or practices. Here is where the business case for green can be made - and it's the same case for banks as it is for other businesses.

As Earth Day fever cools off, maybe it's time to focus green banking on cost efficiencies - and forego the public relations type of greenness. If customers aren't rushing to take advantage of the more esoteric eco-bank initiatives, what's the point? To paraphrase Kermit, it isn't always profitable being green. -- Paula Damiano, Senior Editor, Bank Systems & Technology Survey URL: http://rs6.net/tn.jsp?e=0012REQ4pMphgQVRz1waHbCdaz0F71km0jMxQYLVWqxHlFX6SNcn0dj-M0evzm2uNGmV_iGnDY1JMFr18kewcF4wv037kbVS_1QqX0LJerGa4VjSyUBJGoS-IZ4xBphdme2nN-2e6dKxFIOnce upon a time, the only thing green in banking was the cash. Now the financial industry has hopped aboard the Green Express - with mixed results.

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