Interview of the Week: Andrei Cherny

Andrei Cherny is the founder and CEO of the online bank Aspiration. As CNN reported, “Aspiration is specifically marketing itself as an alternative to dissatisfied Wells Fargo customers. The California startup has a website urging customers to “switch banks from Wells Fargo” to save money and be with a lender they can trust. Unlike Wells Fargo (WFC), which sparked national controversy by admitting it charged overdraft fees to customers for accounts they never signed up for, Aspiration allows customers to pay any fee they want — or no fee at all. Environmentalists have criticized Wells Fargo for financing controversial oil pipelines. Aspiration is trying to help save the planet by offering fossil-fuel free accounts.”

ODP:  Aspiration is inspirational — a bank ensuring that its deposits will not be used to support fossil fuels.  What motivated you to choose the climate issue as one you wanted to act on?

AC: When I was very young, I had the great honor of working for Vice President Al Gore in the White House and traveled the country with him as he tried to focus people’s attention on the climate crisis when hardly anyone would listen. This is the challenge of our time and we believe that each of us has a personal responsibility to do what we can to combat it — including by changing the way you spend, save, and invest.

ODP: How do you ensure that Aspiration is not supporting fossil fuel companies even indirectly?  

AC: America’s biggest banks firms lend a quarter of a trillion dollars a year of their customers’ deposits into the fossil fuel industry alone—enough to build 30 Keystone XL pipelines. Your deposits at Aspiration are held at FDIC-insured community banks that we have certified as not lending to oil and gas exploration and production.

ODP: You see this moral choice as a business opportunity.  Is it working?

AC: It is. More than 200,000 people a month are signing up for Aspiration. They’re moving their deposits from big banks and their spending on their Aspiration debit card because of AIM (the Aspiration Impact Measurement) that allows people to see their own personal sustainability score and the Planet and People scores of the various places they’re shopping so they can make more conscience-driven spending decisions.

ODP: How hard is it to convince people to switch to Aspiration from more conventional banks?

AC: What we find is a lot of people, even people who are trying to spend in green ways throughout their day, don’t realize that their own deposits are being used to fund the destruction of the planet. We actually did an animated cartoon about this. But we find that when people find this out, many of them will want to move their money to Aspiration.

ODP: Do you think other banks (and businesses) will do the same thing when it comes to climate change?

AC: I’m hopeful but also understand that big banks have become addicted to the money they generate from lending to big oil. But the rise of sustainable investing shows change can happen. We’ve created this new approach of sustainable, conscience-driven daily banking for everyday people and believe that this is a powerful level for change.



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