Saturday, February 22, 2014

Banking on Smarter Sustainability Reporting

Here I am again in the UK, looking forward to the third annual Smarter Sustainability Reporting Conference (SSR '14) in London next week. We have a fabulous line-up of speakers again this time around, so if you haven't already booked your place, NOW is the opportunity. The conference will take place on  25th February and we will be discussing all things related to the evolution of sustainability reporting with some of the best experts and practitioners around. Check out my posts about presenters from Tiffany & Co, and from The Crown Estate. 

In preparation for the conference, I checked out Lloyds Banking Group's latest report. Lloyds Banking Group is a UK-headquartered financial services group providing banking and financial services to more than 30 million personal and corporate customers through brands including Lloyds TSB, Halifax, Bank of Scotland and Scottish Widows. Lloyds Banking Group has over 92,000 employees.

With the financial services sector being the least trusted industry globally, according to Edelman's 2013 Trust Barometer, and with the UK down in the bottom third of the trust levels in the financial services league table, reporting becomes a critical tool to support business reputation, relationships, customer reach and employee engagement.

Lloyds Banking Group (LBG)'s 2012 Responsible Business Report is structured around the Group's Responsible Business Strategy which was developed in 2011. It focuses on the contribution of LGB to greater prosperity in the UK. That's going to be even more of a challenge these days, following the devastating  flooding in the south of the UK - just this month LBG announced a £250m fund to provide fee free lending for businesses and farmers, as part of a range of measures for businesses and individuals affected by the floods across Britain.

LBG's Responsible Business Strategy is set out in this way:

The priorities for LBG are clear, and the report includes specific performance targets and results for 2012 and new targets for 2013.

I was grateful for the opportunity to ask Caroline McCarthy-Stout,  Head of Strategy & Reporting at LBG, a few questions. Caroline will be presenting on "Innovative ways to outline the progress of your responsible business activities" at SSR '14.

Tell us about your professional background and how you came to be Head of Strategy & Reporting, Lloyds Banking Group. What specific experience prepared you for this role?
Caroline: I’ve worked in the field of sustainability and public affairs for several years. I started my career working in retail, managing the environmental and social management programme for B&Q across their store estate. Prior to leaving to join their parent company Kingfisher in 2005, I headed up a Community Development team and developed an award-winning 5 year Community Regeneration Strategy which, at that time, supported the UK Government agenda. I was also instrumental in producing B&Q’s first CSR report. I then joined Kingfisher to help further develop its international CR activity and build a sustainability-related public affairs function. Prior to leaving Kingfisher early 2012, I was seconded to Business in the Community to help it shape its ‘Visioning the Future – Transforming Business’ programme - this included supporting business company members in picturing, planning and building sustainable business models. I have been involved in a number of networks and forums over the years, including Cambridge University Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change, and chaired the CSR Experts' Group for the trade association Eurocommerce in Brussels. I was recognised as a Business in the Community ‘Game Changer’ in 2011 – an honour given to individuals who have changed business behaviour and advanced CR within their companies. I joined Lloyds Banking Group to lead Responsible Business (RB) reporting, investor indices and benchmarking work and help with the RB communications strategy. I participate in the RB Committee and have had a lead role in helping to shape the Responsible Business 2020 vision.

What are current your priorities in role? And looking toward the next few years?
Caroline: As part of our 2020 vision, we are launching a ‘Helping Britain Prosper Plan’ focused on the areas where the Group can make the biggest difference and where we can bring about change for the benefit of our customers colleagues and communities across the UK. Our Helping Britain Prosper Plan is simple but ambitious. It sets out seven key commitments and over 20 independently verified ’prosper metrics’ which cover the areas where we can make the biggest difference for our customers across households, businesses and communities. It directly supports our business strategy to be the best bank for customers. People across Britain are facing some big issues - a lack of affordable housing, the challenge of finding a job or escaping the problems associated with being financially excluded, planning for later life and the difficulties of starting or running a successful business in tough times. The Helping Britain Prosper Plan is our response to some of the issues we're best placed to help our customers tackle. Our Commitments include supporting more than 80,000 first time buyers in 2014, lending over £1bn to SME’s on a net basis in 2014, having 40 percent of senior roles filled by women by 2020 and donating at least £100m to the bank’s Foundations between now and 2020. A full set of commitments will be available in our 2013 Responsible Business report. We are the first bank to measure economic and social impact in this way and a big focus for us during 2014 will be to measure and report our progress and to continue to engage our colleagues to deliver against our Plan and bring it to life within our branches and across all brands. 

The reputation of the banking industry in general has suffered over the past few years. How do you view that and how does it affect your work?
Caroline: I think it’s important to say that I would not have joined LBG if I didn’t believe in the leadership commitment to this agenda. There’s a heritage of ‘helping Britain to prosper’ spanning over 300 years and a culture within the business of wanting to do the right thing. We recognise our past mistakes, of course, and know we need to rebuild trust in our business – our Helping Britain Prosper Plan will demonstrate and measure the ways in which we are going to try and achieve this. We must be able to provide meaningful commitments and allow ourselves to be independently measured against those. I believe our Helping Britain Prosper Plan measures can help deliver a positive step-change in regaining positive public sentiment and trust in our industry.

What are the most significant challenges for you in the reporting process? 
Caroline:  Responding to the requirements of all of our many stakeholders and reporting against the things that they expect to hear from us and meeting our regulatory requirements without creating 100 page documents. Integrated reporting takes us a long way but stakeholder demands mean we have to find new, innovative and simple ways to communicate. We have an independent stakeholder panel and work with verifiers to ensure the issues we report upon are reflected in a balanced way.

Who do you expect to be the main audience for your report? 
Caroline: The main audience has traditionally been the investment community. The analysts particularly use the report to profile the business. We've worked hard to ensure our reporting attracts other stakeholders and through our independent stakeholder panel, we’ve been able to get a better insight into what information people want to receive from us. We’ve also undertaken a comprehensive materiality review, and tried hard to find innovative ways of communicating both online and in summary format. 

How do you evaluate the effectiveness of your reporting process? 
Caroline: We evaluate hits on our website and we monitor the feedback we receive. Our stakeholder panel and wider focus groups, undertaken by them, enables us to understand the report’s effectiveness. Our report is also aligned to the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) framework. Many organisations report on a yearly basis and then put it in the drawer for the next nine months. At Lloyds, the approach is very much a strategic one and the report needs to have multi-purposes as a management tool. For example, bringing our RB report forward in line with the Annual Report and Accounts not only supports an integrated approach, but also enables up to date information and data to be used to support key investment indices such as the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. This whole approach helps us to identify gaps and drive performance. We also believe in the importance of assurance and verification, giving readers the confidence that what is being reported is true and accurate.


So, interesting perspectives and insights from Caroline. I am looking forward to asking her more questions next week and hope loads of CSR Reporting Blog readers will be there to do the same. In the meantime, thank you to Caroline for sharing thoughts and information to help whet our appetite ahead of the conference. Talking of appetite , wonder if Lloyds have any good ice cream companies among their clients? 

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, winning (CRRA'12) Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: the Concise guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting  AND  Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . Contact me at   or via my business website   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

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