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Aug 16, 2022

A Comparison of Sustainable Banking Options: Atmos vs Aspiration

Over the past two decades, entrepreneurs, social and environmental activists, scientists and policy makers have increasingly come together to address the potentially catastrophic consequences of human-induced global warming. Major international summits like the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement are not only bringing widespread international attention to what’s at stake, but they’re also highlighting many of the necessary steps we must take as a society to limit the worst of the eventual outcomes. 

Scientists estimate that approximately $5 trillion of annual (that’s every year!) investment is needed for the next 30 years to overhaul the outdated systems and infrastructure that are currently accelerating climate change. To put this whopping amount into perspective, the $150 trillion required is nearly two times the size of the global economy, or approximately half of global debt. Perhaps it is the scale of the problem that is a root cause of the meager global response to date. Perhaps it is the reality that major systemic and institutional change is necessary, and power isn’t given up easily. 

At the time of this article, the U.S. has just passed a landmark climate bill in the Inflation Reduction Act. This bill earmarks $369 billion for investment in climate solutions and environmental justice over the next 10 years. For those who follow the math, this desperately needed legislation commits approximately 0.75% of the annual funds needed for the next 10 years. Of course, we can’t forget that the U.S. is also the largest source of greenhouse gasses, contributing 25% of the cumulative CO2e emissions from 1850-2011. We also can’t forget that the U.S. is the largest economy in the world with an estimated GDP of approximately $23 trillion. Put into perspective, while the Inflation Reduction Act is a win for climate change advocates everywhere, it is a small step in the long march ahead. 

In addition to government response, everyday actions are desperately needed from individuals and corporations. Behavioral change away from fossil fuels and single-use plastics is a critically important factor to creating the necessary shift, and that’s why more and more people are looking for ways to better align their personal lives with Sustainable Development Goals

If you’re one such person, you’ve probably heard about sustainable banking. Moving your money to a sustainable bank is one of the most important (and easiest!) personal actions to limit the negative impacts of climate change. Why? 

Many of the major banks in the world are among the largest contributors to global warming and most banks aren’t showing any signs of slowing down. Commonly cited references to banking and climate change include reports produced by the Rainforest Action Network. Notably, it doesn’t stop at the largest banks. Just as important as what banks aren’t funding is what they are funding. To get to the $5T annual investment, all banks around the world will need to step up in a very big way to incorporate more and more sustainable investment. 

The two leading U.S. companies in the climate finance movement are Aspiration and Atmos. Both options are “neobanks”, meaning they aren’t really banks from a federal regulatory perspective, but instead utilize established banking relationships and technology improvements to offer banking products to broad range of customers. Here is a breakdown of both banking options and what they mean for moving the world closer to a livable climate equilibrium.  

Overview of Atmos

Atmos was founded more recently, in 2020, with a mission of accelerating the transition to the clean economy for all. 100% of all deposits with Atmos are used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by financing renewable energy and other climate-positive assets. Atmos is a Pending B Corporation and 1% For The Planet Member. 

Atmos offers traditional checking accounts and the ability to open up to 6 unique savings accounts to more easily budget for life goals. Atmos offers the same rates and fee-free banking services to all account holders with no balance or card-use restrictions. 

Some of its most notable programs include: 

Overview of Aspiration

Established in 2013, Aspiration is a banking option for “fossil fuel-free” deposits. Aspiration’s customer promise of fossil fuel-free is based on its relationship with several depository institutions — Each of the regulated banks Aspiration works with don’t have active oil & gas exploration and production lending businesses. Aspiration is a Certified B Corp and 1% For The Planet member.

It doesn’t offer true checking or savings accounts, but a single cash management account called a Spend & Save account and uses a Pay What is Fair model that passes through its banking services at cost. 

Aspiration’s product offerings can potentially be considered complicated with two tiers of accounts and reward hooks (i.e. do this to get that). Its base level is known as an Aspiration Save account and its premium level is Aspiration Plus.

Aspiration Save accounts earn 0.00% APY on all savings balances greater than $10,000.00. That’s notably lower than almost all banks around the country. For customers that spend more than $1,000 with an Aspiration debit card, its savings rates jump to 3.00% on balances up to $10,000, and remain 0.00% for all balances greater than $10,000.

Aspiration Plus accounts earn 0.25% APY on all balances greater than $10,000.00. For customers that spend more than $1,000 with an Aspiration debit card, its savings rates jump to 5.00% on balances up to $10,000, but are reduced to 0.10% for all balances greater than $10,000.

Some of its most notable programs include: 

  • The Plant Your Change round-up program
  • 2-day early payroll
  • Carbon-neutral driving with automatic offsets at the pump (for Aspiration Plus customers only)
  • Cash-back on spending among Conscience Coalition members 
  • Credit cards 

Product Comparison Overview

* Aspiration deposits don’t fund exploration and production. Atmos deposits actively fund clean energy and other climate-positive projects.

** Aspiration charges for wire transfers and other “extra” banking services.

Impact Summary

When it comes to environmental impact, Atmos is the clear frontrunner in the banking industry. 

Atmos uses 100% of its deposits to support renewable energy and other climate-positive projects that have a measurable positive impact on the environment. It measures the carbon impact of every dollar and tracks that impact for each customer. With its approach, Atmos accounts substantially reduce the carbon footprint of all account holders and actively contributes to the $5T annual investment needed.   

By contrast, and similar to many smaller banks and credit unions in the U.S., Aspiration deposits are simply not utilized for oil & gas exploration and production projects. 

Interest and Savings Rates Summary

The different savings rate tiers can be complicated when it comes to comparing banking options, especially if there are lots of terms and conditions attached, so we’ve done it for you. 

Aspiration’s tiered rate structure caters to accounts with lower savings balances and encourages debit card usage. Getting the most out of your Aspiration savings rates requires meeting their debit card usage requirements. Without meeting minimum debit card usage requirements, savings rates broadly under-perform most banks in the U.S.  

At the rates published at the time of this article, Atmos offered a higher APY than Aspiration Save accounts with balances greater than $20,000 and for accounts with any balance that don’t meet the minimum monthly spend requirement of +$1,000 at qualifying locations. Atmos offered a higher APY than Aspiration Plus accounts with balances greater than $27,000 and for accounts with any balance that don’t meet the minimum monthly spend requirement of +$1,000 at qualifying locations.

Cashback Program Summary

Atmos offers a superior cash-back program with the opportunity to earn cash at hundreds of businesses around the U.S. While Aspiration offers a higher cash-back percentage for Plus customers, its small number of participating businesses limits the ability for customers to ever see cash rewards hit their accounts. 

Overall Conclusion

Moving your money to a sustainable bank is one of the most important (and easiest!) personal actions you can make to limit the negative impacts of climate change. With the growing number of ESG-related or “green” offerings in the market, the purpose of this article is to compare the leading sustainable banking offerings in the U.S. 

Atmos is leading the industry on what is possible when it comes to putting your money to good use. Atmos embraces emissions reductions by funding climate-positive loans while Aspiration favors offsets through tree planting. Both offerings provide sophisticated deposit and saving products.

Regardless of where you decide to bank, recognizing your capacity to create the change you want to see in the world is a critical step in meeting the climate challenges ahead.

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