Why banks are putting human dignity at their core

Banks, until recently, have been seen as having one aim '“ the maximisation of profit. Sustainable bank Triodos has two '“ to keep its customers' money safe and to use it in a way which benefits customers in the longer term. Established in 1980, Triodos uses the power of finance to support projects that benefit people and the planet and it operates under the belief that banking can be a powerful force for good.

Dr Bevis Watts, managing director, Triodos bank
Dr Bevis Watts, managing director, Triodos bank

“The mission of the bank is to improve human quality of life and to have human dignity at the core of our future society,” says managing director Dr Bevis Watts, who became the first environmentalist to be appointed to a lead executive role at a bank in the UK when he took up the position last summer.

“We fund social, environmental and cultural projects that help us move towards that. At the centre is the conscious use of money.”

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A third responsibility which Triodos clearly takes very seriously is promoting gender diversity both internally within the bank and externally in the sustainable projects it supports through its investment and lending arms.

“The bank has, for many years, operated in an industry that is traditionally male dominated,” says Watts. “That makes it quite complicated for us.

“If we are to recruit people from other banks then we are inevitably recruiting from a pool that is male dominated, particularly at a senior level.”

The solution, according to Watts, is to adopt a supply chain approach to ensure a good gender balance at all levels of the business.

The bank works hard to generate a diverse candidate list and extends this approach throughout the recruitment process, ensuring that there is also a diverse interview panel.

Once on the payroll, Triodos’s dedication to diversity continues. “We also try to ensure equality on all of our development programmes so we are creating the same opportunities.

“When you do that, the moment you are looking for new middle managers or senior managers, hopefully you have brought into the organisation a strong, diverse talent pool of people. It’s about that whole supply chain approach.”

Already Triodos is leading the way for gender balance in banking with a UK workforce which is made up of 51 per cent women and 49 per cent men, as well as a 50/50 split at senior management level.

What is more, the Netherlands-based bank is not far off total equality at a Europe-wide level.

Beyond the bounds of the bank itself, Triodos fully vets the projects it invests in through its Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) funds.

“When we are investing through our investment banking arm, we are looking at companies which focus on environmental, social and cultural issues,” says Watts.

“We have a dedicated team which will be looking at diversity within those companies. If we don’t like something, we can ask questions on all sorts of issues.”

On the lending side, Triodos has traditionally specialised in supporting SMEs, which can present challenges in the field of diversity.

“You might be dealing with sole traders or partnerships where the chance to influence the leadership of the organisation doesn’t really exist.

“As we have grown, we have started dealing with larger and more sophisticated organisations and we have started a discussion on how we apply the same approach to the lending as we apply to investment.”

Transparency is key, which is perhaps not a phrase commonly used when referring to the activities of banks.

Daring to be different once again, the challenger bank publishes every loan and investment it makes, laying its cards on the table and enabling its customers to see how their money is being used.

“If you put yourself out there and say you are Europe’s leading sustainable bank, then you need to allow people to scrutinise that,” says Watts.

“One of the greatest things that the customers of the bank can do is to come and challenge us.”

Diversity within the financial services industry – or indeed in any business – encourages an environment where employees bring different skills, ideas and perspectives to the table.

“What you should want as the leader of any business is the most talented people who bring rich, diverse discussions and ideas to the fore,” Watts explains.

“Creating that culture is how we go that extra mile. Talking about it openly is important but, going beyond gender diversity to LGBTQ, it’s a case of what do we do to create a culture where people feel comfortable and totally accepted, however they choose to categorise themselves.”

Triodos’s supply chain approach should not only ensure equality in gender but also in pay across the organisation.

“Gender pay is an issue that has been in the press recently,” says Watts.

“I would like to think that if you have equal representation of women and men across the business it is less likely that you will get a gender pay gap.

“These approaches need to be adopted more widely in the financial services sector. We have to start with that whole supply chain approach and we have to start with strong representation at the top to change the culture of an organisation.

“I need diverse people exploring what the role of banking in society is.”

Considered by many to be a women’s issue, men are increasingly joining the conversation on gender balance and rightly so.

In Watts’s case, it was the nurturing support of female managers earlier in his career which helped him rise to become managing director of Triodos.

“Earlier in my career it would not have occurred to me to join this conversation but I have reflected on the female leadership in my career and I have realised the impact of different talents coming to the fore. I don’t talk about it as a women’s issue or as a human rights issue.

“I would rather not talk about it as an issue at all; I would rather talk about the positive leadership and why we need to do the things we are trying to do as a bank and why we need diversity.

“For me, we are not going to have a more fair and sustainable society because of technology. Ultimately our future society is depending on the relationships we have with one another and the dialogue that we have about the society we want to live in.

“We need to provide positive leadership about the importance of equality on business performance and on creating the future society we need to live and thrive in.”

On a mission

Triodos Bank’s mission is to make money work for positive social, environmental and cultural change.

It aims to help create a society that protects and promotes the quality of life of all its members, to enable individuals, organisations and businesses to use their money in ways that benefit people and the environment and to provide its customers with innovative financial products and high-quality service.

Triodos believes that everyone should have equal rights and freedom to pursue their personal development and

economic interests – and that they should be able to do so while taking responsibility for the consequences

their actions have on society and the planet.

Four key values encapsulate what is important to the bank and provide the foundation on which the business is built:

Sustainability: Triodos only finances activities that actively benefit people, the environment or culture.

Transparency: Triodos strongly believes that depositors should know how their money is used – all its investments and loans can be viewed through the Know Where Your Money Goes interactive map on the Triodos website.

Excellence: the bank wants its products and services to be among the best in the industry.

Entrepreneurship: Triodos is constantly working to develop innovative new ways to finance sustainable sectors and the entrepreneurs leading them.

Triodos lends to 269 projects in Scotland including housing associations, organic food producers and community wind turbines.

The bank has an office at 50 Frederick Street, Edinburgh. Counter banking services are not available at any of the UK offices but the Edinburgh team is happy to meet with business customers who have a pre-arranged appointment.