Walden Mutual — a new digital bank focused on sustainable food — is the first bank of its kind to receive regulatory approval from the FDIC in 50 years. Its origins are unique. Founded by the former CEO of a grass-fed meat company, it is a unique amalgamation of disparate threads – digital technology, sustainable food, cooperative ownership and a strong regional focus.
I recently spoke to Charley Cummings, the bank’s founder, about his new venture and vision for a more sustainable type of bank.
Christopher Marquis: How is it that an entrepreneur who starts a successful pasture meat business ends up starting a bank?
Charlie Cummings: Well, we had developed an amazing array of partner farms in the Walden Local supply chain – a brand of sustainable local meat here in New England and New York – and it was becoming increasingly clear that they all needed capital. It pointed to a gap in the existing credit infrastructure that stretched from farms to grocery retailers and everything in between.
At the same time, there was this massive flow of capital into impact investing. There is a large segment of the population that has a strong desire to align their investments with a set of underlying values and impacts that they wish to see in the world. Case in point: Impact investing is now a multi-trillion dollar asset class (depending on who you ask). But many of the public funds trying to meet this need leave much to be desired in terms of actual impact. They are mostly “do less harm” – a model of socially conscious investing from 10 years ago or older. Today’s model asks: How do I use my capital to create positive change?
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I then saw the headline that the top 10 banks had invested more than $1 trillion in fossil fuel development since the signing of the Paris Agreement… and realized that we had made the connection portrayed in “It’s a Wonderful Life” a long time ago Borrowers and depositors had lost time. People didn’t know where their dollars were spending the night!
So those were really the beginnings of the credit side of the balance sheet or the deposit side.
Then the first step was to put the team together to actually tackle this – what has become this wonderful mix of industry experts (z years) and outside experts (e.g. our VP of Product and our Head of Marketing have a combination of design, technology and food backgrounds). I am firmly convinced that this mixture produces real innovation.