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Approaching money with care

Since 1974, GLS Bank has been the first sustainable bank to use money to create a world worth living in.
Photo: Tanja Münnich

Sometimes it shakes, sometimes it skyrockets, ever alert until it crashes – the financial market. In news coverage, it sometimes sounds like it’s a living organism that doesn’t shy away from risk. That’s why it’s not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ it will collapse again. And this collapse will be felt at all levels – as it was in 2007 and the years that followed.

Banks should serve people

But why is this the case? Our economic system is shaped by decades- and centuries-old beliefs and theories. The financial market has fuelled a desire for virtually impossible growth and power by means of money. The social market economy and capitalism were initially able to provide what we call prosperity. However, this course of action has gone beyond its original objective and has led to the social and environmental injustice that we see today.

What happened? The 2007 crisis raised fundamental questions that were previously hidden from our everyday view. One such question is, ‘How do banks really function, and how should they function?’ The answer is as clear as it is simple: banks are meant to serve the people by financing ideas, projects, plans and initiatives. As this was no longer the case at many banks, we at GLS Bank saw the largest increase in customers in our history during the financial crisis. Suddenly, this unusual bank, whose name even contains the word ‘gifting’, was in high demand. ‘GLS’ stands for ‘Gemeinschaftsbank für Leihen und Schenken’, which translates as ‘community bank for lending and giving’.

How do we want to continue managing?

We are again faced with crises in 2023. This time, however, we are confronted with several all at once, with the climate crisis encompassing the others in its complexity. Its impact can be felt everywhere. This existential crisis calls into question our lifestyle and the way we do business. It forces us to ask questions and simultaneously to act in order to avert more severe consequences.

For us to succeed, we need a sense of connectedness, honesty and transparency. This is where money could again be useful to us, because money connects us all. Instead of using it against ourselves and distributing it unequally, we want to take a fresh look at it. We remind ourselves that we are the ones who shape our world. We can decide what impact our money should have.

GLS Bank not only takes a stand with regard to a different form of economic activity, but also politically.
Photo: Tanja Münnich

The role of money in our lives

Let’s imagine a freshly brewed cup of tea. It smells good, it tastes good, it warms us up, it accompanies us to many of our appointments or invites us to take a short break. I take a sip. I think of the tea plantation, of the people who harvested these tea leaves for my tea, of their children, their lives, their actions. What feelings does this tea evoke in them? What would they say to me?

It is with this level of awareness, including with regard to myself, that I ask the following money-related question: what role has money played in your life so far? For example, people’s earliest memories and emotions around money come up. It’s also interesting to look at what we associate money with today – opportunities, freedom, or perhaps pressure and excessive demands.

Purchase money, loan money, gift money

The answers can help us to clarify our relationship to money and recognise its different types. This would allow us to use it much more rationally and decide what we want to support, promote and implement with it.

At GLS Bank, we focus on three types of money: purchasing money, loan money and gift money.

Purchasing money is a sign of appreciation. It is the money we deal with the most every day when we, for example, buy a bread roll. An action like this involves a gesture of appreciation. It means: I like your bread roll. I go out of my way to buy this product. Thank you. I encourage this further with every purchase.

Loan money means trust. It says: I believe in the café, business model or house project you want to implement. I believe that the money will be put to good use there and will make its way back to me after a certain amount of time. The relationship between lenders and recipients tends to be of a long-term nature.

Gift money is a sign of love. The important thing here is how the money is given. Ideally, it should be given in a way that is completely free of obligations and expectations. If that is the case, money in the form of a gift says: I love you, I believe in you, unleash your potential.

When can I give, when can I take?

Looking at my own life, it’s very exciting to figure out which type of money I fall back on or am dependent on during which seven-year period. It then becomes very clear that, above all, money helps me achieve my life mission. I can ask myself: when can I give and when may I take? It really depends on whether I am young or whether I have already lived for many years and have started to let go of things.

That’s also how it feels at GLS Bank. GLS Bank is 49 years old. The bank is re-adjusting and realising that it’s time to fulfil its life mission. This allows us to focus, examine our raison d’être and align ourselves with the topics that are close to our heart. We sense that our combined area of expertise is socially and environmentally sustainable banking. Some days, the bank feels invincible and leads the world forward. On other days, our mission is weakened by injustice and destruction. But there is hope. The bank’s life’s work – which revolves around a socially and environmentally sustainable way of living and doing business – has become a global issue. The transformation is underway.

Filling finance with warmth

For GLS Bank, this means paying particular attention to social challenges in order to achieve our environmental goals. The cold monetary system must be filled with the necessary warmth. We rely on our community, our customers and our members. They entrust us with their means of shaping the world, money, so that we can fulfil our quintessential task and allow it to flow into the three types of money – in a way that is socially and environmentally sustainable, of course.