Originally published in the Spring edition of Society Matters magazine.
By Julie-Ann Haines, CEO, Principality Building Society
Principality Building Society is keen to pave the way forward for the business with sustainability and diversity being intrinsic to the internal culture.
From the first moments I took over as CEO at Principality last year, I could see an urgent need to be focused on bringing the consumer inside the business and begin to work from the inside-out to move us forward as a business.
Plans are already in progress to make Principality a much more purpose-driven, sustainable and diverse mutual organisation. I don’t want our business to simply tick some neat boxes then standstill and forget about the issues that are staring us in the face.
Covid has certainly focused the attention of lots of companies and people all over the world. Right now, businesses have been thrust into the perhaps unfamiliar position of having to act in the interests of the broader society. For example, new working from home practices, return to the office, creating solutions for our people to help balance childcare with being productive at work, making sure our colleagues’ mental and physical health is prioritised even more than ever.
There is a need to be a more flexible business, listening to what people need rather than just offering them what we think they want and what benefits us the most. It is something we all have to come to terms with and adapt to. It is a huge wake-up call for businesses to listen more intently to colleagues, customers, communities and stakeholders.
I created two positions as part of my restructure once I started my role. Firstly, a sustainability lead to work with our products, risk, governance and corporate social responsibility teams. The second position was a diversity and inclusion lead to help us make step changes to our internal culture. These two roles will be fundamental to helping us with our environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategy in the next five years.
There is also a growing expectation that firms making multiyear commitments to sustainable finance build ESG considerations more comprehensively into their governance structure.
I think it is crucial for ESG aspects of financial decisions to be brought into mainstream governance arrangements. This should be seen as part and parcel of board responsibility for purpose, strategy and the design of the business model intended to achieve ESG goals. I can see we have a lot to do but we are already taking small steps on the road to being a more sustainable business.
The McKinsey report on ESG tells us such a business proposition creates value. One is how strong ESG can help with top line growth and attract B2B and B2C with greener products that meet the values of potential customers. Reducing costs such as energy consumption is an obvious way we can as mutual businesses help the environments of our communities.
As responsible member-owned businesses we can enhance better investment returns by better allocating capital for the longer-term. All of this can boost colleague productivity and help building societies attract talent through greater social credibility. People want business to share their values, they want integrity and transparency, as well as great service.
If you think of these benefits, it makes so much sense, especially if we are all to attract a younger demographic, for building societies to be even braver in doing the right thing for people. My greatest inspiration is my own children, who have a much greater awareness of environmental and climate issues than I ever had as a teenager. My eldest has already had a question she put to our local MP read out in the House of Commons about taxation in single use plastic.
Housing and sustainability
Climate change and sustainability is becoming an ever more important topic, in home-life and within businesses, and it’s no surprise that property contributes 20% of all carbon emissions.
Our Commercial team has already made some progress in providing loans to eco housing projects, and has launched a green product for developers who are looking to build greener homes.
I am proud we’ve recently become an early adopter of the Sustainability Reporting Standard for Social Housing, which is a universal framework for Housing Associations to report their sustainability. Housing Associations that use this framework will receive preferential rates from the lenders involved to encourage the building of eco-friendlier homes, both around construction and operations.
Similarly, the case can just as forcefully be made for why more diverse organisations tend to be much more successful businesses. More than 45% of women make up the workforce in financial services, yet less than 20% are represented on executive committees globally.
Despite being the first female CEO in Principality’s history, and as an organisation that is about to have a female CEO and female chair of the Board to work in tandem, we still have an enormous amount to do in order to have a much more inclusive and diverse culture.
Our five-year strategy will focus on working on that inside-out approach I have already mentioned. As a business we have already reformed recruitment procedures and increased our flexible working arrangements throughout the pandemic. We are looking towards long-term change after our colleagues told us that more than 40% want permanent home working arrangements to help with childcare and work life balance.
We have already embedded mentoring schemes for women and more than 100 female colleagues have worked with Welsh company Chwarae Teg, who provide courses to help women reach their potential at work.
Recently Stonewall came in to give an awareness course to our Board and senior leadership teams and the impact has been profound. We already have thriving LGBQT+ and REACH networks to cultivate a more inclusive and understanding culture. These are small steps but ones which create a much more buoyant and productive workforce.
I want to create a team of colleagues that reflect the local communities we serve, moving from being purposeful to being truly purpose-led. The team should be one that is focused on being not only sustainable today but one that doesn’t compromise the ability for future generations to meet their needs. We have to be relevant for today but ready for tomorrow.
It is time to be courageous in our decision making, and the events of the past year have taught us the need to strive to achieve more on behalf of our members and communities. I am so excited about the opportunities that lay before us and how we can start to make a difference.