According to section 5(1)(a) of the Building Societies Act 1986 (as amended) a building society’s “purpose or principal purpose is that of making loans which are secured on residential property and are funded substantially by its members”.
No doubt building societies have lots of statutory powers (and/or permitted powers under their constitution documents) to carry out activities ancillary to that main purpose, but I don’t know why my local building society (the Cumberland) has chosen to associate itself quite actively (via a section on its website and posters in its branches) with Cogo (though read on, and you might gain an idea why it does so).
The Cumberland Building Society website offers up this:
Cogo’s free app enables you to view and reduce the carbon footprint of your spending.
The app highlights ways for you to improve and compensate for your climate change impact by using Open Banking to view your bank transactions and access real-time information about your carbon footprint, enabling you to become a more conscious consumer.
Cogo are on a mission to empower hundreds of millions of consumers and businesses worldwide to become conscious consumers and we’re pleased to partner with them.
Partnering with Cogo is the first step on our journey to understand our impact on the climate and the environment around us, learning more about this will us [sic] build future plans to help us do our bit for the planet.
The first step, apparently, involves this:
The app is free on both iOS and Android, simply follow the link below to download it. When creating your Cogo account you will need your Cumberland Internet Banking Username and Access Code to link you accounts together.
That worried me, for starters. I realise that where some aspects of technology are concerned I am very old-fashioned, but in this age of internet and banking fraud, I think it is important to be careful about supplying private financial information to third parties. Why would I want to supply my building society account information to a third party in order to set up a virtue-signalling app? And, sure enough, if you have got this far, and read the “legal stuff” at the foot of the website page, you will find this:
If you click through to Cogo, you will be leaving the Cumberland and entering their website which is subject to their own Data Privacy Notice. We recommend that you read it before providing Cogo with any personal information or connecting your Cumberland account to their app.
FAQs include one asking how Cogo uses personal data. This is the answer:
Open Banking uses secure technology. Cogo works with consents, online, which is regulated and approved by the Financial Conduct Authority. This means your data is securely stored and encrypted so it can only be used for features that are necessary to the Cogo experience.
Fair enough, I suppose, but this bothered me:
With your consent via Open Banking, Cogo will help you identify opportunities for you to shift your spending to businesses that better align with your values. We do this by analysing your bank transactions to identify which businesses you’re currently shopping with. We never share your personal transaction data with any third parties. We use very aggregated, completely anonymous data to report on the overall impact of Cogo community and to make the case to companies for improving their business practices (e.g. 15% increase in spend at business X by customers who care about the Living Wage).
Big Brother is watching you (if you let him).
Another question asks whether I can really make a difference. To which the answer is:
Yes, you can! When you join Cogo, you become part of a winder [sic] community where everyone’s individual actions add up to make a significant difference. This can’t happen without the actions of every single member, including you.
It depends what you mean by a significant difference, and difference to what exactly? If it’s about making a difference to climate change, then patently the correct answer is “no”. And it’s clear that calculating carbon footprints is definitely their thing, as you discover if you follow the links to the FAQs at the Cogo website.
The Cogo website also tells us:
Through Open Banking, the Cogo app can help you measure your carbon emissions, give you personalised ways to reduce them, and certified options to offset the rest of your footprint.
Now we’re getting somewhere. My guess is that someone will be making money out of those footprint-reducing “certified options”.
By the way, Cogo’s website tells us that its own “carbon footprint” for 2021/22 is 18.35t CO2e.
Remind me. What are building societies for?