Saturday, May 8, 2010

Listen sustainability at Barclays

Every so often you come accross a little touch in a CSR report that makes you think: "Mmmmmm, that's neat!" . So it happened with the Barclay's plc Responsible Banking Review for 2009. On the back cover of this 36 page review, Barclays note:

To request a large-print format or audio version, please email .

Mmmmmmmmmm, that's neat!  Their whole report in audio format ? That, for me is really going the extra mile in the interests of meeting all stakeholder needs. I haven't seen this before.

In this report,  Barclay's 10th, Group Chief Executive John Varley projects a no-nonsense view of the banking industry, its issues, its failures and its responsibilities. I like his straighforward style. He talks about the heated debate by the public about the role of banks which is "understandable" but "often clouded with hyperbole and misrepresentations" . In setting this straight, John Varley reminds us of the five core activities through which banks must contribute to society:
  • providing reliable and efficient payment systems
  • delivering safe storage (for deposits and savings)
  • maturity transformation (converting savings into loans)
  • asset management
  • investment banking.
Barclays' responsible banking themes are : responsible finance, financing the future (addressing global challenges such as climate change) and citizenship (investing in communities) .  However, whilst Barclays did not take the government bailout at the end of 2008,  there was some backlash at their alternatives for raising cash to bolster their financial position.  A discussion of this topic didn't make it on the materially assessment radar reported in the Responsible Banking Review, so don't expect to read this in large-print format or listen to it in audio.

One other interesting thing about this report is The online feedback page / reader survey. The survey asks for feedback on the report in a number of areas. However, on this online form, there is no request for, or opportunity to include, your contact details. I understand that some might prefer to provide feedback anonymously, and that Barclays may not want to follow up with everyone who provides a response,  but shouldn't it be in Barclay's interests to know who  is giving them feedback and have the opportunity to follow up with those who provide it? Feedback should not be a one-way street, it should be the basis for dialogue. Simply asking for feedback without the opportunity to engage those providing it would seem to me like eating the chunky without the monkey.

 elaine cohen is the CEO of Beyond Business, a leading social and environmental consulting and reporting firm. Visit our website at  

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