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Introduction to the social impact of banking

From the Group Head of Sustainability, Gill James

As an international universal bank, we can create value beyond the profits we make; by doing things the right way, we can have a positive social and economic impact on communities, at the same time as making money for our shareholders.

To create long-term value, for communities as well as for ourselves, we must provide relevant solutions to our clients, not focus narrowly on products or short-term gain. We cannot ignore the pressing issues that affect the societies in which we operate. Our performance as a business depends on healthy economic activity. That’s why we are committed to help tackle the challenges faced by the communities where we live and work.

The last few years of turmoil in the global financial industry have moved sustainability to the top of the agenda for most banks. Proving that banking has a role in being socially useful is crucial to restoring public trust in the financial system. To us, the crisis was a chance to reaffirm and strengthen our long-held commitment to building a sustainable business. Our distinctive approach emerged as a key differentiator between us and other banks.

We keep sustainability firmly at the core of our business model, not on the periphery. As we see it, sustainability goes beyond philanthropy, beyond the notion of corporate social responsibility and protecting our reputation. We take a broader approach, acknowledging the transformative impact that we can have on people and economies, by providing finance effectively and responsibly. We strongly believe that we have the opportunity to create social and economic value for the wider community, but we cannot take this for granted.

We want to understand our contribution and how we can deepen it. Measuring the impact of our activities is critical to this understanding and an area in which we have stepped up significantly. In 2010, we commissioned independent social and economic impact assessments on our activities in Ghana and Indonesia – the first in a series of studies to help us understand and measure the extent of the contribution we make through the products, services and community investment that we provide around the world. In 2011, we will build on this initiative.

We have a clear and consistent sustainability strategy and deeply embedded risk management processes for guiding our decision-making. Nevertheless, we continue to set ourselves stretching goals for the future.

Working closely with key stakeholders in all of our markets is crucial to our efforts; it provides us with important third-party evidence of our impact, helping us to validate our strategy and push ourselves forward. We aspire to demonstrate genuine leadership in being a force for good, inspiring and influencing others, including other private companies, through a continuous dialogue with the wider community.

External recognition is important. We are proud to be included in the Dow Jones Sustainability World and FTSE4Good indices, among others. These listings acknowledge our achievements relating to stakeholder engagement, human capital development, risk management, financial inclusion and climate change governance – driving investment into our business. We are pleased to be listed with other leading organisations that share our ambition of contributing positively to economies and communities.

Our progress is highlighted throughout this, our fifth annual Sustainability Review. It shows where we have come from, where we are going. We are excited about continuing on the next stage of our sustainability journey, demonstrating the many ways that we are Here for good.

Annual Report and Accounts 2010