The Customer Effect
How First Green Bank is selling customers on its environmental ethos
- First Green Bank, a regional bank with seven branches across Florida, pushes environmentalism in design, products and marketing.
- Founder Ken LaRoe says First Green is attracting customers who prefer to bank with an institution that shares their values.
A solar roof. A green wall. Countertops made of recycled money. These are a few outward examples of how Florida-based First Green Bank uses its environmental credentials to appeal to customers that want to put their money into an bank that aligns with their green values. The company, a regional bank with seven branches across Florida, fuses environmentalism into its branch design, product offerings and social media presence in an effort to woo customers. Ken LaRoe founded the bank in 2009 after selling Florida Choice Bank to Alabama National BanCorp three years before. He said he drew inspiration for the concept after reading Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard's book "Let My People Go Surfing" and learning more about the green banking movement, which includes banks that put environmental principles at the core of their operations. It's a sector that's not particularly crowded, and includes private (like New Resource Bank in California and Houston-based Green Bank) and quasi-public institutions like Green Bank of New York and Connecticut Green Bank. A large component those who flock to the company are millennials, who, according to Morgan Stanley research, are far more likely to invest in areas that have a social or environmental impact. "Some people come to us because we're a community bank that provides good service and personal attention, and some people come to us for the value proposition," said LaRoe. "We get a lot of millennials -- as a demographic cohort, they seem to get it." [caption id="attachment_14433" align="aligncenter" width="750"] Solar roof on top of First Green Bank's Mount Dora location.[/caption] LaRoe said that the design of the branches encourages openness and energy conservation, including a flagship Mount Dora, Florida branch that's certified to LEED Platinum rating, the highest ranking a building can be given by the U.S. Green Building Council. He said it uses 30 percent of the energy a comparable sized building would consume, and along with a solar roof, there are mechanisms to collect rain water for plumbing and irrigation uses. The building's interior design is open concept and uses recycled materials, and the bank offers free coffee and sitting areas for customers. "The first thing when you walk in the door, you see the living wall, and then if you look down the terrazzo floors are made of sustainable products, the countertops are made of grounded up recycled money and if you look up there's a gym that all the co-workers can use," he said. The bank offers discounted interest rates for commercial and residential building projects that meet green building criteria, along with solar loans. In addition to its design and products, First Green is also active on social media in voicing support for environmentalism and getting in on political issues. Earlier this year, it posted on Facebook to draw attention to the fact that it wasn't supporting the Dakota Access Pipeline, a flashpoint that LaRoe said prompted many customers to switch to First Green Bank. "On the Dakota Access Pipeline, we've had people call us from all over the country," he said. "They're saying 'I'm moving my mortgage from Bank of America because they're supporting the Dakota pipeline and I want to move my business to you' -- it's that kind of thing over and over again." When asked if the bank's social media activity leans too far towards political advocacy, LaRoe said he feels it's important to post content that reinforces the values-centered message. "I don't mind being polarizing and my board sometimes has that concern, but especially in this age of 'Trumpism,' it needs to be in their face." Photos courtesy Steve Williams