Kat Taylor is a piece of work. Last month at the Net Impact conference in San Jose, she began her prepared “remarks” by belting out a jingle for One PacificCoast Bank, the community thrift she founded in 2007 with her husband, Tom Steyer, the billionaire investor and climate-change activist. She can’t abide the fact that the big money-center banks like Bank of America and City finance the coal industry, so her bank has issued a credit card that is co-branded with the Sierra Club. She is surely the only member of Harvard University’s Board of Overseers who sports a half dozen tattoos.
When I met Kat at Net Impact, I knew that I wanted to learn more about her and One PacificCoast Bank. So, on a reporting trip to San Francisco, I visited the bank’s headquarters in downtown Oakland. The bank is small, but Kat has big plans for its growth, which I wrote about today at Guardian Sustainable Business.
Here’s how my story begins:
Like global billion-dollar corporations, every one of us manages a supply chain. You might be supplied groceries by Whole Foods, clothing by Gap, shoes by Nike, gas by Shell and electronics by Apple. Or not – most of us have dozens of retailers or brands from which to choose.
But when it comes to credit cards, the majority of Americans turn to a small number of big banks: JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Citi, Wells Fargo, Capital One and US Bancorp.
Kat Taylor, the founder and CEO of One PacificCoast Bank, has set out to change that. One PacificCoast Bank (“Welcome to Beneficial Banking”), based in Oakland, CA, offers a socially and environmentally preferable alternative: a bank with a mission to serve low-income communities and the environment.
And if the idea of switching checking your checking accounts (with their very sticky electronic bill-paying services) or your deposits to a regional bank (without its own nationwide network of ATMs) seems inconvenient, Taylor has a simpler proposition for customers who want to clean up their financial supply chain, just switch your credit card.
“We’re asking people to fund all of their purchasing activity from a bank with which they are aligned,” Taylor said.
But can a little-known bank with just $320m (£199m), in assets take on Wall Street? Certainly not on its own, but Taylor is enlisting some formidable like-minded allies, notably the Sierra Club, in her crusade. As America’s oldest and largest environmental group, with 2.1 million members, the Sierra Club has agreed to issue a credit card with One PacificCoast Bank. The club’s share of the proceeds will help support environmental campaigns, often targeted against polluters who are financed by Wall Street.
The idea of affinity credit cards isn’t new, of course. You can get credit cards emblazoned with the logo of your favorite retailer, sports team or university. Working Assets has since the 1980s offered credits cards that support groups including the Rainforest Action Network and Human Rights Watch, but the cards are now issued by Bank of America and donate only 10 cents per transaction (a miserly amount, since other cards give 1 percent of your spending back). By contrast, One PacificCoast Bank is owned by a foundation, and intends to plow 100% of its profits back into groups that support the environment and low-income communities.
After meeting Kat, I was fascinated read in The Times that she and Tom Steyer operate a small cattle ranch, called the TomKat Ranch, which sells beef under the Leftcoast Grassfed brand; it’s aiming to become a model of sustainable agriculture. Steyer was profiled in The New Yorker in September by Ryan Lizza; he’s working with New York Mayor Bloomberg and former California Governor Schwarzenegger to build a bipartisan climate movement. And if you would like to know how this power couple met, read the rest of my story, here.
Photo: Courtesy of sfgate.com