‘Sustainable banking’ has been a buzzword in the industry for some time now because of its positive connotations. Since the onset of the global financial crisis, there has been growing concern amid customers that their banks are not only resilient, but also sustainable. At first there was concern that sustainable banking institutions focused on financing businesses that actively benefit the wider society and pay extra attention to creating affirmative environmental policies and would jeopardise an institution’s competitiveness.
However, new research by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Global Alliance for Banking on Values has proven that sustainable banks outperform leading traditional banks in a number of areas and typically offer comparative or better financial returns.
For Access Bank, a leading Nigerian institution, sustainability has always been a fundamental part of their business model. “We focus on creating real value through careful implementation of our sustainability agenda and have incorporated this into every aspect of our business operations and relationships,” explains Omobolanle Victor-Laniyan, Head of Sustainability at Access Bank.
“Our strategy is driven by our commitment to be the best in all that we do and to adopt best practices in every aspect of our operations. We want to be the change in our industry and we intend to create a viable future by setting standards that make the difference for a sustainable future.”
For Access Bank, a leading Nigerian institution, sustainability has always been a fundamental part of their business model
As a result, Access has been blazing a trail in the region, setting a positive precedent for other banks. “A key development was our decision to embed sustainability into all our core operations as well as a review of our corporate strategy to define our business outlook,” says Victor-Laniyan. “In Nigeria today, Access Bank is respected for laying a solid foundation of sustainability in the banking landscape; the bank has provided leadership in the development of the Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles. We also organised a capacity building workshop for the industry in conjunction with the Sustainable Finance Advisory, Dutch Development Bank and United Nations Environmental Protection and Finance Initiative.”
The Nigeria Sustainable Banking Principles include guidelines on oil and gas, agriculture and power, which are culminated in a circular release by the Central Bank of Nigeria directing all banks, discount houses and development finance institutions to adopt and implement the principles. It has been a huge step forward for the Nigerian banking industry, as the guidelines help local institutions invest wisely and sustainably in worthwhile environmental and development projects.
“Access Bank’s business philosophy is hinged on high ethical practices and standards. The business philosophy will guide the bank’s day-to-day operational decisions and actions, and is anchored on three key elements: customers, sustainability and talent,” says Victor-Laniyan, explaining Access Bank’s strong corporate social responsibility initiatives, which span beyond sustainable banking.
“We have also developed policies to shift social paradigms. While promoting women’s economic and political empowerment has gained greater attention over the last three decades, progress has been slow.”
Getting it right
“At Access Bank, we focus on empowering female multipliers; those women whose integration into the banking sector will create ripple effects throughout the economy. We know the critical importance of developing policies within our own institution to help break down barriers to women entering careers that in the past have been dominated by men, such as in banking. Women make up 30 percent of our board which is impressive by international standards.”
It is through initiatives such as these that Access Bank has built its reputation as a modern and socially conscientious bank. With its robust sustainability and CSR practices, the bank has been climbing the ranks within the regional industry, and coming ever closer to its goals which has contributed to overall growth. “The bank aspires to rank in the top three position in chosen markets and serve as the standard for creating value for customers, employees, shareholders, investors and local communities through sustainable business practices,” explains Victor-Laniyan.
“The strategic thrust of the bank is to triple it’s size over the next five years, with clear focus on improving profitability and return to shareholders.” Commercially, Access Bank’s strategy is a runaway success. With revenues of over $1.2m, and $28m of profits before tax, it is not hard to see that the bank is certainly doing everything right.