ABN AMRO at the Partnership Election: investing with an impact

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Partnership verkiezingen blog

One of the goals of the Sustainable Banking department is to draw as many of the bank’s employees as possible into sustainability. Sustainable transition comes from within, and that is something that we can only achieve by working together. Against this backdrop, the Partnership Election came as a unique opportunity. Our contribution to this transition: a high-impact business case.

The idea is to open the Impact Fund up to retail clients. We want to make investing with a positive impact on people and plant an inviting and positive experience. Anne Stikkers Anne Stikkers Environmental & Social Risk Advisor

Working together to improve sustainability

Sustainability is an important issue for ABN AMRO. However, improving the sustainability of our business – and convincing everyone to support this ideal – is quite an undertaking, particularly given the size of our organisation. While our department does their bit by defining policies, that is only part of the story. True change needs support in every part of the bank. The Partnership Election is a perfect tool for this: an opportunity to represent your organisation by developing a sustainable business case, with the possibility of winning the big prize. I immediately saw that this would be an amazing opportunity. Young professionals often have sustainable ambitions that they are unable to realise in their day jobs, but which they can pursue in the Partnership Election. On top of this, given our clients’ ever-increasing expectations in terms of people and planet, they are creating added value for the bank at the same time.

Impact

The Partnership Election sparked so much interest that we decided to enter two teams. We came together for a brainstorming session, and discovered that one group wished to concentrate on human rights, while another preferred the theme of climate and the environment. My teams focus quickly became clear: we wished to join the fight against deforestation. Destroying tropical rainforests has disastrous consequences for the environment and the local population. Our vision was to set up a fund that invested in sustainable forest management. Projects such as these leave the forest standing yet still derive economic value from it, for example in combination with sustainable farming, CO2 emission right sales or tourism. We sought extensive input: from investors, NGOs and researchers, as well as the bank’s own experts. While we heard some wonderful ideas, sadly we learned that it is very difficult to generate financial returns from forests. At present investing in sustainable forest management represents too many risks, and does not match our idea of making the business case as inviting as possible.

Eureka!

So we needed a change of plans. We considered our options, and the Eureka! moment came during our monthly session with other Partnership teams early in February. We decided to focus our efforts on promoting an existing fund. The only question was: which fund? Our standards were high. We were looking for a fund that visibly contributes to sustainable development. The answer came from Vincent, one of our team members working for the Sustainable Banking department: the FMO Impact Fund. This fund runs projects in developing countries, which it selects not just for their financial returns, but also based on sustainability criteria. The two most important criteria are the volume of CO2 emissions that the project saves and the number of jobs that it creates. Investors receive updates about each of these criteria: the fund’s financial, environmental and social performances. Launched in 2016, the Impact Fund is a unique partnership between ABN AMRO and Dutch development bank FMO. At present participation is restricted to Private Banking clients. This is where our business case comes in: we want to open the fund up to retail clients and make impact investing – as it is called – an inviting and positive experience.

Our business case has two elements. The first is to integrate an Impact Account into the Internet Banking app. As we see it, the Impact Account will be displayed below the user’s normal accounts. Users can decide every month what amount to save and what amount to invest, making impact investing as straightforward as mobile banking. The second element is an app that uses videos, blogs, photographs and other content to show users the impact of their investments.

A diverse and positive team

This is an exciting challenge, and we have the right team to handle it. All five of us work for different departments at the bank, with connections and contacts in every part of the organisation. We also complement each other: an understanding of sustainability and investing on the one hand, for example, and the creativity to shape our ideas on the other. These qualities, combined with our infectious enthusiasm, give us everything we need to realise our idea.

Will we win the election? That remains to be seen. This isn’t what this is all about, although it would be a nice boost. What’s much more valuable is the inspiration that we all draw from one another. We see this whenever we talk about our case with other people at the bank, but we also notice it within the various teams participating in the election. Of course it’s still a competition, but I really enjoy seeing people whose day jobs have nothing to do with sustainability working so hard to improve the sustainability of their organisations. It gives me an incredible burst of energy.

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