Cash ISAs

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 41 brands offering Cash ISAs.

We also see what ethical options are available and offer our Best Buy recommendations.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

What to buy

What to look for when choosing a cash ISA:

  • Is it an ethical investor? Make sure that your chosen brand is clear about how it will invest your money. Keep an eye out for ethical investment policies. The sector is lucky to have two innovative organisations looking to lever the power of people’s savings for positive social and environmental change.

  • Is it a mutual? Is the organisation owned by and run for their members rather than for short-term financial gain? Savings accounts that are by mutual organisations like building societies have traditionally been a more ethical choice.

Subscribe to see which companies we recommend as Best Buys and why 

What not to buy

What to avoid when choosing a cash ISA:

  • Is it financing climate change? All of the big banks have extensive investments in fossil fuels, including the most damaging ones like tar sands and ultra-deep sea drilling. Also look out for investments in the fracking industry.

  • Is it funding the Israeli military? War on Want released a report detailing the relationship between UK financial institutions and companies that sell arms and military equipment to Israel which have been used in the oppression of Palestinians.

  • Is the company a likely tax avoider? Secrecy and aggressive tax avoidance continues to pervade the banking sector. We rank companies on their likely use of tax avoidance strategies, by looking at the type of subsidiary companies they have registered in tax havens.

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Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20)

Our Analysis

Cash ISAs are more popular than stocks and shares ISAs because there’s no risk to your money. Cash ISAs are the same as any standard savings account except they are tax free for a limited annual amount of saving. For the tax year 2017-18 you can put up to £20,000 into a cash ISA, a stocks and shares ISA, an innovative finance ISA, or a combination of the three, if you’re a UK resident aged 16 or over.

The specialist ethical providers Triodos and Charity Bank both offered competitive cash ISA rates in March 2018. For example, Charity Bank was offering a 33-day notice ethical ISA paying 1.7% annually at the time of writing. Triodos was offering 1.05%.

For comparison, Nationwide, a big mainstream building society, was only paying 0.75% but withdrawals could be made without notice.

Innovative Finance ISAs

An innovative finance ISA – sometimes called an IFISA – is an ISA that contains peer-to-peer loans instead of cash in a bank or stocks and shares in companies. They were introduced in 2016 to make it easier to invest tax free with a wider range of providers.

Peer-to-peer lending matches up investors, who are willing to lend, with borrowers, who could be individuals, businesses, or property developers.

Triodos and Abundance both offer IFISAs. Triodos is currently offering three IFISAs in renewable energy projects and a charity, with interest rates of 5-7% and terms of between 5 and 17 years. Abundance invests in green energy projects at a rate of 6-8% over 3-5 years.

See our article on Crowdfunding for more details.

Stocks and shares ISAs

These investment type ISAs can be linked to ethical funds, see our dedicated guide.

Ease of moving accounts

Government efforts to promote competition in the sector mean that it’s pretty easy to move your whole Cash ISA to a more ethical provider should you choose. In theory it should take no more than 15 days, but you should follow advice on how to do it without losing its tax free status. Contacting the new provider is usually the best place to start.

Divesting your ISA from the fossil fuel industry

Mainstream banks may well take your ISA savings and lend them on to a range of companies involved in controversial activities. This could include: investments in armaments companies, nuclear weapons, animal testing, tobacco, pornography and, of course, the fossil fuel industry. You can read more about the big five banks and their controversial investments in our guide to current accounts.

Corporate policies

Most banks do now have Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies which give the impression that they are as concerned about some of these activities as you are.

However looking at their actual investments, as we have done for the ranking table (above), shows that in many cases these words are little more than hot air.

As you'll see from the table very few banks, other than the three ethical ones at the top, get our best rating for environmental reporting and only three institutions (Charity Bank, Triodos, Co-op Bank) get a product sustainability mark for having an ethical lending policy.

You can read about the most ethical options in the Best Buy box above, all of which make positive investments that benefit society and the environment.

Mutuals

Mutuals (also known as building societies) are also a good option for ISAs. Mutual deposit takers account for about 34% of cash ISA balances. They are seen as a more ethical option due to the fact they lend mainly in the housing market and don't invest in fossil fuels and other unethical sectors.

All the mutuals featured on the table above pick up an additional mark in our scoring system for company ethos due to their democratic structures. They also have branches on most high streets which makes them easy to find and use. You can read more about mutuals and building societies in our guide to savings accounts.

Company behind the brand

Nationwide Building Society is the largest building society in the world, with more assets than all the other British building societies combined. 

Nationwide was marked as having a positive investment policy because it confirmed that “Nationwide has no direct investment in coal, oil, gas, tobacco, arms, alcohol or gambling. Since that statement, we have also withdrawn from new commercial lending, so our business lending is reducing.”[1]

Nationwide got our best rating for likely use of tax avoidance, and middle rating for environmental reporting.

Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

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