Sustainability is a buzzword that feels like it’s overused. At the same time, the movement is also extremely important. After all, we only have one planet.
Fintech is at the forefront of innovation and is changing several industries at a time. It seems that now is the time to focus even more on sustainability as technology is somewhat maturing.
Digital banks are, by default, much more sustainable than traditional banks due to not having paperwork, physical bank branches, and far fewer employees.
On the other hand, crypto-focused fintech companies are much worse for the environment due to most crypto projects draining a lot of resources.
Bitcoin and Ethereum, the two most popular cryptocurrencies, are draining the planet, and NFTs, which are bought and sold with Ethereum, are subsequently bad as well.
But, let’s focus on the ‘good guys’ for now and see what fintech companies have sustainability at the forefront.
Stripe is one of the most valued fintech companies in the world. It’s a real juggernaut in the payments space, and the company branched out into other categories, such as data, startup incorporation, taxes, online identity verification, and more.
The fintech that has headquarters in San Francisco and Dublin, Ireland, also started its carbon removal program called Stripe Climate.
With Stripe Climate, a company can direct a fraction of its revenue to help scale emerging carbon removal technologies in just a few clicks. 100% of the contribution goes to carbon removal, and the company’s scientific advisors help maximize the long-term impact.
Unlike some other fintech companies on this list, Stripe didn’t opt for the easier route of planting trees to offset carbon emissions and calling it a day. They identified that planting trees might not be enough to scale to the size of the problem.
Instead, the company, in conjunction with top scientists, is investing money into the best projects and the most promising carbon removal technologies.
For example, company 44.01 turns CO₂ into rock, harnessing the natural power of mineralization. Their technology injects CO₂ into an amply available rock, where it’s stored permanently. This storage approach can be paired with a variety of capture technologies.
Running Tide, another company Stripe invested in, removes carbon by growing kelp in the open ocean. After maximum growth, the free-floating lines of kelp sink into the deep ocean, where the incorporated carbon is stored for the long term.
And then there’s my favorite – CarbonBuilt. Their process converts dilute CO₂ into calcium carbonate, creating a low-carbon alternative to traditional concrete.
Bunq is a challenger bank from the Netherlands that is doing its share by planting trees. They plant a tree for every €100 you spend, which is roughly the same amount of dollars at the current exchange rate. The bank is available in the European Union, Iceland, and Norway.
Bunq has been a fully-fledged bank since 2014. Fast forward to 2021, and Bunq is a unicorn. A startup worth more than $1 billion. In fact, the company’s valuation reached €1.6 billion after an investment of €193 million the same year.
That was coincidentally the largest Series A round for a European fintech company. It looks like focusing on the environment and sustainability can pay off.
But what about the number of trees they planted? By September 2020, the company planted one million trees in partnership with Eden Reforestation Projects. In October of the same year, the company completed its first reforestation project in Madagascar and started planting in Kenya.
It doesn’t stop there. By November 2021, 5 million trees were planted, and at the time of writing, more than 7 million.
Although Bunq doesn’t invest in the energy sector, it still invests in companies that derive up to 50% of their turnover from coal-fired electricity production.
Treecard is working with Ecosia, the not-for-profit search engine that is planting trees to build an ecosystem of responsible alternatives to services like banking and internet search. Ecosia is also behind Treecard’s reforestation projects.
But what is Treecard? It’s a digital bank and debit card made of wood instead of plastic. Actually, the core of the card is made of recycled plastic bottles.
The fascinating thing about this is that they can make more than 300,000 cards from a single sustainably sourced cherry tree and some recycled plastic bottles. That means that they will use fewer than a dozen trees for their cards, ever.
The way this works is that each time you use your Treecard, a portion of the interchange fee is paid out to Treecard, which uses this revenue to plant trees.
By July 2022, the Treecard community planted 100,000 trees. On the other hand, the Ecosia community has helped to plant over 120,000,000 trees.
Aspiration is a digital bank out of Marina del Rey, California, that was founded in 2013 by Andrei Cherny and Joseph Sanberg.
The company is backed by numerous well-known VCs and celebrity investors such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert Downey Jr., and Orlando Bloom and has raised around $250 million and is planning on going public.
What Aspiration is doing is it’s planting trees to offset carbon emissions. So, same as other digital banks on our list. It’s no surprise because trees are easy to quantify, and they’re considered to be one of the easiest ways for consumers to eventually cancel out the greenhouse gas emissions associated with their daily lives.
Every time you use their card, Aspiration will have one of its global reforestation partners plant a tree. If you use the credit card 60 times, the resulting trees that are planted are enough to offset the carbon emissions from an average American home.
As the co-founder and CEO Cherny said, “For the first time, you can have a climate change-fighting tool right in your wallet.”
However, there seems to be some greenwashing by the company as ProPublica uncovered that they haven’t planted as many trees as they say and that their round-up leftover change goes into their pockets as well and not just for planting trees.
Furthermore, the company’s investing arm also doesn’t seem to be as environmentally friendly as it is presented. The company still has a lot to do if it wants to be truly sustainable.
Atmos is a digital bank from San Franciso, California, that was founded relatively recently, in 2020.
This challenger bank has a different approach than the ones above. The deposits that you keep in this bank fund clean energy. This is a step above not investing in fossil fuel companies.
Your deposits will be used solely to fund climate-positive infrastructure that will help accelerate our transition to a clean, fair, and transformed economy. This means investing in things like:
- Renewable energy
- Energy efficiency overhauls
- Electric transportation
- Green construction
- Regenerative agriculture
There’s even a handy carbon calculator on their website that tells you how much CO₂ you’re saving from going into the atmosphere relative to the account balance you keep in your Atmos account.
For instance, if your account balance is $20,000, that’s 19 tons of CO₂ saved per year or the equivalent of around 43,000 miles not driven per year.
You can also round up your spare change on purchases or automatically donate monthly from savings, entirely fee-free. Audit-ready records are also accessible whenever you need them.
Many charities and non-profits are available
Practically, that means investing by offering loans to solar energy companies in emerging markets like Nigeria. The energy company distributes and sells this renewable energy to its customers, and you, the investor, make money if the loan is successful by receiving your investment and interest in return.
The aim is to connect people with disposable income to African entrepreneurs who supply solar power kits to people who live in rural, off-grid areas.
According to the company, investors can expect a return on their investment once the solar partners begin their repayment, which is a period between six months and two years.
This fintech wants the investments to help local economies become more self-sustainable while, at the same time, providing a solution to the 1.2 billion people worldwide lacking access to electricity. A whopping 95% of these are in Sub-Saharan Africa and developing countries in Asia.
Cooler Future is another fintech that’s investing your money into sustainable funds that only invest in companies addressing climate change.
The company was founded in 2019 and is headquartered in Berlin, Germany.
The company screened over 2,000 funds to guarantee they meet high standards of climate impact and financial returns. Funds, as well as the companies in which the fund invests, must meet strict environmental, social, and governance standards.
There are several funds you can invest in. These include:
- Smart energy
- Clean water
- Circular economy
- Forestry and timber
- Green real estate
- Smart mobility
- Food and agriculture
- Cooler future – climate action
If you invest with Cooler Future, your investments are considered separate assets and are therefore protected from the insolvency of the bank where the money is kept or Cooler Future.
Opportunities for Sustainable Fintech Companies
There are many opportunities for fintech companies that take the sustainability route. Both investors and customers are eager for more products that focus on our planet and not only on profits.
Even hardened capitalists will soon have to open their eyes and see that the world around them is changing. Sustainable, renewable, and green products can be both good for the planet and for profit. There’s really no need to choose one over the other if we can have both.
Making green products or investing in green industries can easily attract new types of customers that have plenty of money and are willing to spend it on good causes.
Millennials especially are growingly driving the demand for green products and seeking more transparency in how companies integrate environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) with their policies, products, and services.
In a world where less than half of the largest banks have made a sustainable finance commitment, it’s often the smaller and newer digital banks that are driving the change.
By shifting your investments to enterprises that protect the natural world, and build solutions for the future, you too can support the world in its transition to a green economy.
Challenges for Sustainable Fintech Companies
One of the main challenges for investors, but especially customers, is to separate the wheat from the chaff. Or, in other words, figure out which companies are sustainable for real from the ones that are only greenwashing.
Greenwashing is a well-known and popular practice where funds are engineered to appear more beneficial for the environment than they honestly are.
Because this practice is so widespread, it has led to skepticism of the rightfulness of green finance and mandated investors to do thorough due diligence when making financial decisions.
Also, making new products, especially the ones that rely on new tech, can be very expensive. The barrier is often quite high in terms of cost, as is the case with most new products, but in this case, it can be even higher.
Therefore, finding investors with deep pockets is a must, and raising money is one of, if not the most important tasks.
Banks and venture capital firms are only now starting to be aware of the need to invest in sustainable products, mostly because of pressures from non-government agencies and activists, as well as ordinary people that have had it with greedy capitalists.
Thankfully, there are many fintech companies focusing at least a part of their efforts on our and our planet’s future.
Fintech startups do that either by investing clients’ money in companies focusing on renewable energy, making green products, and doing other good work or by taking things into their own hands by planting trees, for example.
Because people are finally taking notice that our Earth is going through climate change, there’s a record demand for greener services, products, and technology.
The road to sustainability is long and windy, and fintech can play a crucial role if it plays its hands right. Once again, governments are falling behind, but technology can turn around negative climate trends in our favor.