Bank of the West’s Money Matters Report—Revealing the Sustainability Intention Gap


Where you put your money matters—more than most people think

As consumers continue to put an emphasis on making choices that support the environment, sustainable finance has gained momentum in recent years. It is a cornerstone of our work at Bank of the West, so we commissioned research to better understand how consumers and business leaders are making financial decisions that support their environmental values.

That was the vision behind Bank of the West’s Money Matters Report–Revealing the Sustainability Intention Gap. And while we’ve made progress raising the level of awareness about sustainable finance, the findings show that we still have a way to go. Nearly 4 in 5 (79%) people in the US report they are “passionate” about climate change. However, only 22% say they know whether their bank is financing fossil fuels.

Consumers’ Awareness of Their Bank’s Role in Climate Change

Where they spend vs. where they bank is creating a consumer intention gap

Consumers increasingly consider sustainability when it comes to individual purchasing decisions, but when it comes to their finances, the lines begin to blur. While banks lend the deposits they gather from their customers, over three-quarters of consumers (78%) are unaware of what potentially harmful activities they might be financing through their bank.

And there’s more…

Consumers purchase goods and services from brands that support environmental and/or societal issues they are passionate about. However, this correlates more strongly with products they put on or in their bodies

Four in 5 (82%) Americans buy goods and services from brands that support the environmental and/or societal issues they are passionate about at least some of the time. When these conscious consumers make these choices, more of them typically purchase food or beverage products (73%), clothing (59%) and personal care or beauty products (59%) aligned with their beliefs than any other type of purchase. Fewer do the same when shopping for vehicles (26%), outdoor equipment (25%), banking/financial services (21%), hotel and leisure (19%), or air travel (12%).

Percent of conscious consumers who buy from brands that support issues they care about, by industry
A majority of Americans believe in changing their behavior to address climate change, but not when it comes to changing their bank.
  • 87% of Americans believe that individuals can have an impact on climate change by making changes in their own lives and behaviors, 57% feel that banking and financial brands are making too little effort to fight global climate change, and yet 66% would remain with their bank even after learning it had no restrictions on financing certain commercial businesses, areas, or sectors.
    • Millions of Americans are in the dark about what their bank does with their money. Close to 3 in 10 (27%) Americans are unaware that their bank uses customer deposits to finance issues, areas, or sectors.
    • What’s more is that a majority of Americans don’t know whether their bank holds back financing those initiatives to which they are opposed. More than 3 in 4 Americans do not know whether their bank restricts financing in the following areas – all of which they report they are against: tar sands extraction (79%), arctic drilling (78%), coal-fired power plants (78%), fracking (78%), big tobacco production (76%), and deforestation (76%).
While many Americans oppose activities that threaten the environment, most Americans are not aware if their banks finance these activities

Gen Z is leading the charge in reducing climate change over older generations and a majority would switch to a climate-friendly bank

Over 4 in 5 of Gen Z (88%) say reducing the impact of climate change is their passion, and Gen Z is more likely than older generations to consider it extremely important to purchase from companies that align with their own beliefs (Gen Z 46%, Millennials 34%, Gen X 33%, Boomers 25%). Furthermore, more than 3 in 5 Gen Z (Gen Z 61% vs. Millennials 53%, Gen X 59%, Boomers 47%) would switch to another bank if they knew their current bank was financing fracking.

Americans want to protect natural resources, but the term climate change is causing division—unless you’re a parent

The term climate change has been politicized, but there’s bipartisan support for conservation and other environmental issues. While the survey showed more than three quarters (79%) of Americans describe themselves as passionate about reducing the impact of climate change, divisions lie beneath the surface. Only 64% of Republicans say they are passionate about fighting climate change compared with 92% of Democrats.

When asked about environmental issues without using the term climate change, Americans find more common ground. Almost as many Republicans as Democrats say they are passionate about protecting natural resources (85% Republicans and 89% Democrats) and managing clean water (89% Republicans and 91% Democrats). However, when it comes to climate change, being a parent starts bridging the political divide. While 77% of Republicans who have children are passionate about reducing the impact of climate change, only 57% of Republican nonparents share this view.

Business leaders have good intentions but face execution challenges

Businesses can play a major role in advancing sustainability and the health of our planet through choices they make about production, supply chain, how they invest and where they bank. Through this study, it’s clear that even with good intentions, businesses can have difficulty executing sustainable finance practices. The research reveals that on average 42% of business executives[1] don’t know if their company’s bank is investing in environmentally harmful activities.

[1] Defined as business employees with the title of Vice President or higher

The vast majority of business leaders think it’s important for brands in the banking or finance industry to help stop climate change…

…But many don’t realize what their company’s bank is doing with its money.

The study also found that…

Taking action to advance sustainability can provide companies with a competitive advantage

More than half of companies with CSR/ESG plans (59%) or current implementations (63%) report increased profitability over the last two years compared with 23% of companies without a CSR/ESG strategy.

Among the business professionals who have a CSR/ESG Strategy, 97% experienced at least one benefit including:
Amidst the “Great Resignation,” purpose-led organizations have an advantage when it comes to retention and hiring

About 1 in 2 decision makers would quit their job or look for other opportunities if their company did not support environmental and social issues that are important to them (47%).

Americans consider it critical that brands take a stand on current environmental and societal issues. Americans feel so strongly about this that a company’s lack of action and impact would deter them from supporting the business.

About 3 in 10 – or 76 million[2] – Americans would look for other businesses to work with if a company was built on values that did not align with their own beliefs (31%). About as many would do the same if the business didn’t improve the environment (31%), support environmental or social issues (30%) or improve local communities (30%). Seventeen percent would look to take their business elsewhere if the company didn’t take action to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion for employees and customers, alike.

Mid-level managers are an untapped lever for companies trying to be more sustainable

72% of business decision makers, VP level or higher, believe sustainability is extremely important, but nearly a third don’t know how they can truly make an impact (30%). Middle managers are more likely than their more senior counterparts to report that the banking and financial efforts to fight global climate change need improvement (Director level 53%, Manager level 48% vs. VPs and above 36%).

[2] Extrapolated from 246,324,983 Americans aged 18+ (Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey 2018)

Download the business survey data here

Now is the time for business leaders and consumers to get serious about sustainable finance

For consumers seeking to take individual action to address climate change, the 1% for the Planet Checking Account gives back to environmentally-focused non profits through the 1% for the Planet organization at no cost to the customer, and the mobile app associated with the account includes a carbon tracking tool to educate consumers about the climate estimated carbon impact of their debit card purchases.

Bank of the West also provides services for businesses and organizations of all sizes looking for a fundamentally different bank. We are a local bank with a global outlook, with strong environmental policies, and we are led by one of the few women CEOs in the industry. Bank of the West has policies in place to restrict financing for the dirtiest forms of fossil fuel extraction, such as coal and fracking, and other activities that we deem are harmful to the planet, including Big Tobacco.

To learn more, visit www.bankofthewest.com or check out https://meansandmatters.bankofthewest.com/ for tips on taking greater sustainable action.


  • The results came from a nationwide survey of 550 business decision makers and 1,100 consumers conducted between September 21, 2021 and October 1, 2021 by Material.
  • Results of any sample are subject to sampling variation. The magnitude of the variation is measurable and is affected by the number of interviews and the level of the percentages expressing the results.
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