In this week’s episode, we speak with Ravi Mikkelsen, cofounder of Atmos Financial, a fintech startup. We talk about how Ravi is leading the way as an alternative to using big banks for personal banking. Most of our banking institutions use customer deposits to fund loans that support fossil fuels. Atmos is doing the opposite of that. Once they have built up a sufficient deposit base, Atmos will transform deposits into direct action on climate change, making loans to fund a clean energy economy. They work to support renewable energy, regenerative agriculture, electric transportation and weather resilience.
Ravi clarifies that Atmos is not a bank, but a banking startup. They provide FDIC insured bank accounts through their bank partner. Because of that they have more freedom in what they back, giving them more creativity in how they deploy capital. Deposits at Atmos go toward climate action; they’re not just sitting there going to fossil fuels or prisons. They’re going to fund things like regenerative agriculture, more housing, etc
One big driver of banking is convenience. “I go to the bank just down the street and it’s just what we’ve always done”, says Ravi. Now, it’s who has the best app and your bank is in your pocket. As a fintech, they provide tech solutions to emulate the convenience – we think it’s fast and beautiful and are constantly iterating to improve it.
We talk about how they are using their mission. On the about page, you can see their vision and mission with a letter from the co-founders as well as info on their values which starts with love. Love for the planet and each other. Ravi says that just deploying the tech for the wealthiest in the world won’t cut it and that banking has to take care of societal issues – can’t change the world unless you change it for everyone.
Ravi also talks about another value: urgency with a bias toward action. A forward leaning approach toward moving faster; how do they deploy capital more quickly? They are trying to work with community banks to translate the mindset about deploying more capital. They’re in the process of signing contracts with banks to deploy deposits against climate positive infrastructure. They are starting with banks that have existing lending practices with similar values.
As the conversation progresses, we dig into safety. Safety is paramount to banking – trust is the currency of finance. Both time in the market, working with partners & nonprofits and building security by partnering with FDIC can provide insurance via partner banks. Ravi’s cofounder, Peter Hellwig, worked for New Resource Bank which is a BCorp in San Francisco that was acquired. He has created a lot of relationships over his career and starting with that network has helped them get introduced to partners at Bcorp and 1% For The Planet which they are a member of.
Voting with our dollars is what we most often use as we decide how and where we spend our money. It has a great effect on the local economy and where we bank can have global implications. The world we live in is financed by our deposits. Changing where we deposit can change where you live. As part of their offering, customers can donate a fixed amount monthly or a percentage of that savings rate. On top of that, Atmos gives .11% bonus if you elect to do a monthly recurring donation. They have also just launched one time giving.
When it comes to marketing, Ravi and Jonathan talk about how there is a need to educate potential customers. Most people don’t understand what their money does when they make a deposit. Four of the big banks are the biggest financiers of fossil fuel extraction in the world. Our deposits don’t just sit in a bank, physically or digitally. It gets lent out into the economy. So there’s education around that as well as the solution piece around how you can pivot it to be used for the betterment of society.
Ravoi advises people to go to bankingonclimatechaos.org, to see how your bank is using deposits. They provide a report about the top fossil fuel funding banks in the world. If you go deep it shows the top 60 and you can see into some of those assets and what they hold. There are also a few other transparency tools around private prisons or war materiel.
Carbon offsets are an important part of this. Carbon offset programs however offer a lot of potential problems like if a reforestation program that has gone from native, bio diverse area to a monocrop tree plantation which then makes a net negative in terms of health and in carbon sequestration. Biodiversity gives resilience and health to the area. Some environmental organizations are holding hostage nature preserves for carbon credit programs.
As the episode wraps, Ravi says, “I’m 39 now and started on this climate journey when I was 18. I think I would tell myself to focus on being balanced. It would be taking care of my holistic self – people push so hard and there’s a bit of a burnout period. This is your mission for life and it’s a long game, so play it that way. Tell people about the changes you’re making and that you want to see an equitable shift in society.”
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