Mr. Grüntker, responsibility is a weighty concept. What does it mean for Helaba?Herbert Hans Grüntker: A sense of responsibility for society and the environment is an integral part of Helaba’s self-image and is firmly entrenched in our strategy. We regard it as our duty not only to comply with laws and regulations, but to conform to ethical standards. We enshrined this in the binding sustainability principles we formulated back in 2014 and have aligned our business strategy, risk strategy and code of conduct with those same principles. In order to publicly document our commitment, we declared our support for the ten principles of the UN Global Compact in 2017.
You mentioned the code of conduct that Helaba published in 2018. What was your goal with that?
Our mission is to simply be a good bank. That sounds easy enough, but it is actually a task that we have to fulfil every single day. Of course, we assume that everyone at Helaba will act in good faith. But it isn’t always easy to distinguish right from wrong. Any breaches of laws or ethics – regardless of whether they are deliberate or due to ignorance – would damage our reputation, both as a financial institution and as an employer. That is why the code of conduct, a binding framework for the entire Group, raises awareness of potential risks and helps each person make the right legal and moral decisions.
What is the specific content of the code?
It defines, in a perfectly transparent manner for all to see, how we at Helaba want to work together and achieve our goals. That’s why it contains binding rules on issues that pose reputational risks for the Bank – including inside information, white-collar crime and data protection – and maps out paths for preventing such risk situations. However, the code also explains what we understand by mutual respect between employees, customers and partners.
But what applies to Helaba and its employees, doesn’t necessarily apply to its customers and partners ...
True. Unfortunately there is always a risk that companies and projects financed by Helaba could have a negative impact on the environment or society. But we want to keep this risk to an absolute minimum. That’s something else we committed to when we became a signatory to the UN Global Compact. Starting in 2018, we included binding, Group-wide sustainability criteria in our risk strategies. In this way, Helaba rules out the deliberate financing of projects that could violate labour law or human rights, destroy cultural assets or cause serious environmental damage. Additional guidelines apply to high-risk areas such as power plants, oil production and the armaments industry.
By the way, our subsidiary Helaba Invest has signed up to the international Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI). That obliges us to pay more attention to ecological, social and corporate-cultural factors in our investment activities.
"Our mission is to simply be a good bank."
Herbert Hans Grüntker,
The term sustainable finance describes the financial markets’ contribution to changes in social and economic factors as well as in factors that have an impact on the environment in order to pave the way for humanity’s long-term survival on earth.
German Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin)
But couldn’t knock-out criteria like these damage Helaba’s core business?
As a Landesbank, Helaba has always stood for values-based banking business in close cooperation with the Sparkassen and for the benefit of society. This attitude, along with our reliability and integrity, form the foundation for Helaba’s success – and serve to set us apart from our competitors: we systematically manage sustainability via our central risk strategies. In this way, we achieve the highest possible level of commitment. Everyone can clearly see what type of business conforms to our values.
At the same time, many of our investors, customers and partners increasingly want to assume business responsibility themselves: demand for green financial products is on the rise. This means that, just as we are scaling back our business with coal-fired power stations and power station coal, we are financing specific projects with a positive impact on the shift to renewable energy.
A final question, Mr. Grüntker: What are the next objectives on the sustainability agenda?
Our main task within the company is to expand our employees’ options. Their levels of satisfaction are decisive, both for a positive corporate culture and for recruiting the best and brightest in a highly competitive employment market. We want our employees to continue growing and developing, and to enjoy an open corporate culture characterised by mutual trust and respect.
We are also active in various initiatives relating to sustainable finance, a topic that really began to take off last year. In particular, there’s the Green & Sustainable Finance Cluster Germany, of which WIBank is a founding member and Helaba a platinum sponsor. We consider this to be an important and valuable initiative to develop ideas for, and approaches to, sustainable finance at the Frankfurt financial hub.
We will definitely intensify our engagement in this area. After all, one thing is for certain: in order to change things for the better, we need to connect with others and develop viable solutions in consultation with our customers and owners. In this way, we can keep burnishing our sustainability credentials and continue to demonstrate – to our employees and the public alike – exactly what we stand for.
Mr. Grüntker, thanks for talking to us.
The UN Global Compact is an international initiative for responsible corporate management. It is based on ten universal principles that focus on human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption It not only provides a general framework, but is also a management tool to help ensure that Helaba’s business and risk strategies and its code of conduct are geared to sustainability.