(Bloomberg) — A new community bank in central Florida will lend to businesses committed to sustainability and consumers trying to make their homes more eco-friendly, in an effort to tap into millennials’ concern about climate change.
Climate First Bank, which plans to open its doors in St. Petersburg next year, will seek to expand to other parts of Florida and to cities such as Austin, Texas, founder Ken LaRoe said. The bank will offer interest-rate discounts for sustainable projects such as LEED-certified building construction, and dedicated loan options for home solar panels or energy-saving retrofits.
There’s a void for such financing as large banks pay lip service to environmental concerns without changing their practices, LaRoe said. He called announcements by bigger rivals “lots of greenwashing.”
“Millennials vote with their pocketbooks, and they care about climate change,” LaRoe said in an interview.
U.S. banks have trailed European rivals in committing to environmental goals. When Europe’s largest banks signed onto a framework of climate targets for lending portfolios, they weren’t joined by major U.S. lenders. Yet U.S. banks have also signaled they’ll move to set similar targets as they come under pressure to cease financing the fossil-fuel industry. JPMorgan Chase & Co. said this week it plans to set such goals next year, to be achieved by 2030.
LaRoe founded a bank with a similar mission in 2009, First Green Bancorp. He sold it in 2018 because of investor pressure after not having paid dividends for years, he said. This time, he said he intends to take Climate First public after five years and make it pay regular dividends.
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