Our ambition: to become the world’s impact bank

Leaders from across Intesa Sanpaolo explore how to embed ESG values and make a sustainable, positive difference for planet and people

Giulia Rhodes

22/03/2021

“We must be a real engine of sustainable and inclusive growth, delivering better opportunities to the next generations,” said Marco Rottigni, Head of Intesa Sanpaolo’s International Subsidiary Banks Division (ISBD), as he opened its recent webinar on impact banking.

The ambition to become the “impact bank for the world”, driven by global trends such as the climate crisis, population ageing and digitalisation, has been thrown into greater relief by the COVID-19 pandemic. “We must restore hope,” Rottigni continued.

Seven senior leaders from a wide range of departments joined the roundtable. Their focus, Rottigni explained, was not only to explore strategies for innovating organisational and business models that place environmental, social and governance (ESG) values at their core, but also to highlight the many opportunities this approach offers the bank and its stakeholders.

“Intesa Sanpaolo must act as a front-runner”
Marco Rottigni, Head of International Subsidiary Banks Division, Intesa Sanpaolo

Alessandro Dordolo, Head of Human Resources for the ISBD division, began by pin-pointing the need for a “glocal” approach to successful international ESG business journeys – one driven both centrally and at the level of the communities served. “This culture has completely changed in the past five years,” he observed, “bringing the banks closer to the parent company and the parent company closer to the banks.”

The result is improved competitive performance for the banks as they embed corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices.

Addressing the corporate world’s focus on diversity and inclusion, Dordolo pointed out that the huge benefits of the former would be lost without the latter. “When you are inclusive you are aware of your prejudices and you break them.”

Age must not be forgotten in an inclusive approach, he said: “The way we engage young people is really important.” And the responsibility for inclusion must fall on everyone, he added, warning against a tendency for organisations to think in a siloed way. “We can’t always stop and wait for someone else to make a start. Be the first.”

“We must leverage inclusivity for a more holistic approach that opens new opportunities”
Alessandro Dordolo, Head of Human Resources, ISBD, Intesa Sanpaolo

During his speech, Dordolo emphasised the importance of setting common targets and adopting not simply one mindset, but rather a more holistic approach that opens new opportunities.

Picking up on the need to ensure that changes are truly organisation-wide, Laura Maida, Head of Strategic Initiatives, explained the importance of a structured approach. She gave the bank’s 2018-21 business plan as an example. “We put sustainability and impact into the plan, something then quite remarkable compared to our peers. It meant we set clear targets, ambitions and KPIs to support our vision for a positive impact on society. We monitor them over time and provide updates on them alongside our financial updates.”

This way it is possible to “reshape the way you do business, the way you interact with clients and make strategic decisions, which can be difficult”, she said.

“We set clear targets, ambitions and KPIs to support our vision for a positive impact on society”
Laura Maida, Head of Strategic Initiatives, Intesa Sanpaolo

Ensuring that commitment continues to drive change, the bank last year established an “ESG control room”, bringing together a team from all divisions of the bank to support management operationally.

The ISP4ESG programme, also launched last year, serves a similar role, bringing together the bank’s many ESG initiatives. “We realised there was a large amount of work already done by all sections of the bank, but we wanted a clear, central view and leadership,” said Maida. “ESG cannot be the responsibility of one group, or even of one joint team.”

As with all strategic priorities, clear plans for next steps are key. “In the next business plan, ESG will be one of the pillars. We will have a clear view on what we mean by being a leader in ESG. A key focus will be to reinforce activity on sustainable lending and sustainable investment.”

Giovanna Paladino, Head of the Technical Secretariat of the Presidency, offered another perspective on impact banking: “We need to operate by thinking of impact on the community, identifying ways to create long-term value and reduce social inequality.” Key to this goal, she added, is effective analysis of need and of potential impact.

The Intesa Sanpaolo Charity Fund uses such analysis to target projects both in Italy and abroad. In 2020, half of the fund’s budget devoted to international donations went to the subsidiary banks’ 11 territories. One beneficiary has been a relief project for those affected by the November 2019 earthquake in Albania. Food and first aid were delivered to 200 students and 65 teachers. The project was particularly impressive from a long-term-impact point of view, Paladino said, because of the additional provision of psychological support.

“Financial education is a revolutionary and inclusive tool”
Giovanna Paladino, Head of the Technical Secretariat of the Presidency, Intesa Sanpaolo

Another key element of creating real value for society is financial education, something about which Paladino – also director of the bank’s Museum of Savings – is passionate. “Increasing financial literacy is crucial”. The OECD is clear it is lacking. This is especially true for women, the elderly and the young.

“Knowledge of basic concepts is a toolkit to defend against poor advice, financial anxiety or the risks of people believing they know more than they do. It can prevent indebtedness and despair.” Moreover, Paladino added, the benefit to banks of having financially healthier clients is indisputable.

But approaching the hardest to reach requires nuance and any one-size-fits-all plan would be doomed to failure. “It must be multi-channel. We use schools and edutainment with children. But we produce written material specifically for women, encouraging financial independence, because they have told us they don’t want face-to-face training.”

Successful financial education leads to planning. “Fear and precautionary savings cannot be the driver of long-lasting and sustainable growth,” said Paladino. “Financial education is a revolutionary and inclusive tool.”

A positive impact requires ambition and, as Marco Rottigni reminded the webinar audience, is a responsibility. “It is a mandatory challenge for companies like ours. Intesa Sanpaolo shouldn’t merely keep up. We must act as a front-runner.”

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