Sustainability

Business activities

Helaba assumes responsibility for society and the environment. This responsibility shapes our long-term strategic business model and how we view our role.

We also accept this responsibility in all fields of our business activities in which we work together with our customers. We provide solutions and products that enable our customers to obtain the natural resources and social conditions that form the basis for their livelihoods and, in this way, to achieve long-term business success. We systematically take into account aspects of sustainability and consumer protection in the fields of business in which we operate.

The way in which our business activities are closely intertwined with the real economy is a significant factor for our success. Around 60 percent of our balance sheet total consists of business with customers, that is to say loans and advances to customers and affiliated Sparkassen. This strategy makes a significant contribution towards creating a society based on sustainability.

Helaba supports the United Nations Paris Agreement and its climate goals. Together with our subsidiaries, we give priority to promoting environmentally-friendly technologies and projects that support the energy transition. For example, in close co-operation with Sparkassen we support small and medium-sized companies and local authorities in implementing projects in the area of renewable energy. To facilitate this, we offer a wide variety of financing solutions for solar power, photovoltaic systems and wind turbines. In this way, Helaba and its clients help to support pathways leading towards the development of a climate-friendly world.

Michael Seibel
Sustainability Officer

Sustainable lending

As its core business, Helaba assumes responsibility for society and the environment in scope of its lending activities. In order to achieve this, we have defined group-wide, binding sustainability criteria that are anchored in our risk strategies. They ensure that human and labour rights, the preservation of cultural heritage and the protection of the environment are respected. As a matter of principle, we rule out the deliberate financing of projects that cause severe damage to the environment or that contravene international social standards.

We have developed specific criteria for critical sectors of the economy that explicitly exclude controversial business practices. They include the sectors of energy, mining, oil and gas exploration, agriculture and forestry, the pulp and paper industry as well as the defence industry.

The requirements laid out in the risk strategies are based on principles contained within the UN Global Compact in the scope of our binding sustainability principles. In order to avoid reputational risks that could arise in connection with issues of sustainability, among other things, Helaba has implemented a relevant risk management process.

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Sustainability in business segments

The State Treaty, legal form and Articles of Association provide Helaba with a public remit that is oriented towards the common good. They form the basis of our sustainable business activities. Helaba’s sustainability profile is characterised by having a conservative risk profile, being closely intertwined with the real economy, oriented towards the long term, integrated in the Sparkassen-Finanzgruppe and focused on the region. This represents a binding framework for sustainability that we put into practice and follow in Helaba’s various business segments.

 Promotional business

Helaba fulfils public development tasks on behalf of the State of Hesse through Wirtschafts- und Infrastrukturbank Hessen (WIBank). In particular, WIBank provides financial support in areas where conventional financial service providers are not active due to a lack of potential earnings.

There are many starting points for responsible, socially acceptable neighbourhood planning as well as for modern energy concepts, especially in the field of town planning. WIBank supports demographically beneficial urban planning, building subsidised public housing, modernising urban tenement blocks or constructing modern wastewater facilities. It also promotes measures to make residential buildings energy efficient and the construction of energy-efficient dwellings. In this way, WIBank enables towns and districts to actively participate in protecting the environment and the climate.

The aim of our economic development activities is to promote sustainable economic and social development. The nationwide expansion of fibre optic networks in the scope of digitalisation is one current example of this. In addition, lending to small and medium-sized enterprises in order to create new and protect existing jobs and apprenticeships forms part of WIBank’s remit.

WIBank is also involved in the practical implementation of the Hessian Municipal Investment Programme. Hesse’s local authorities are able to use the funds provided in this way for investments in a variety of areas. These include building affordable housing, providing assistance to large families, students and refugees or expanding the full-day supervision of children in schools.

You can find additional information about Wirtschafts- und Infrastrukturbank Hessen at:

­Trad­ing and In­vest­ments

Helaba is one of the leading providers in the segment of Schuldscheindarlehen (SSDs), or promissory note loans, for companies and the public sector in Europe. Our strengths lie in our extensive product and market expertise as well as our long-running track record of successful past investments.

Thanks to our particular experience and competence, we are focusing our efforts on expanding our range of sustainable financial products. For example, we are currently developing a range of products in the segment of renewable energy. Helaba has already successfully placed the first large-volume green corporate SSD.

Helaba Invest

As an asset manager for institutional investors, Helaba Invest manages mandates with a connection to sustainability and offers tailor-made solutions for investors. On the reporting date of 30 September 2018, Helaba Invest had mandates (special funds and mutual funds) with a volume under management of EUR 108 billion. Of this, EUR 7.5 billion was related to mandates which include specific sustainability criteria. This corresponds to approximately 6.9 % of total volume.

In March 2018, Helaba Invest signed the UN Principles for Responsible Investment and will integrate ecological, social and corporate cultural factors into its investment approaches and products. As a first step, Helaba Invest is increasingly applying environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria to its equity mutual funds since 2019. The ESG screen of the funds is based on the exami­nation of major contro­versies according to a variety of inter­national standards and con­ventions. Among other things, this ensures compliance with the principles of the United Nations Global Compact in the areas of human rights, labour standards, the environ­ment and the prevention of cor­ruption. It under­scores the sus­tain­able character of Helaba Invest's entire range of mutual funds.

Helaba Invest is a member of the German Investment Funds Association e.V. (BVI) and recognises its code of conduct. This code emphasises the duty of investment companies to accept social responsibility in ecological and social issues as well as to ensure good corporate governance ESG criteria. They take the interests of investors more strongly into account than was previously the case in relation to anti-competitive practices, treating investors fairly by providing them with clear and understandable information as well as rules to improve corporate governance.

You can find additional information about Helaba Invest at:

Efficient, sustainable – and digital

Austrian Power Grid AG (APG), an Austrian electricity grid operator, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Verbund AG. It is building a 110-kilometre-long high-voltage line with the help of an utterly new capital-market product: a “green” Schuldschein that is issued and managed entirely digitally. We paid a visit to the construction site in Upper Austria and spoke with Andreas Petrie, head of Corporate/Capital Markets at Helaba, about the potential of this digital Schuldschein.

 Real estate

OFB takes ecological and sociocultural aspects into account in terms of the planning, construction and operation of its properties. The vast majority of its projects considerably exceed the current requirements of the Energy Saving Ordinance. Any future requirements or possible changes to the Energy Saving Ordinance are included at an early stage of planning new projects.

In the future, almost all projects are expected to conform to the criteria of the German Sustainable Building Council (DGNB) or the U.S. Green Building Council Standard “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” (LEED). Even today, many of the properties developed by OFB have the appropriate certifications.
The valuation of a property plays a key role in financing real estate. Here, too, sustainability criteria are systematically included in property appraisals.

You can find additional information about OFB at:

Re­siden­tial pro­perty mana­ge­ment

In its residential property management activities, Helaba is committed to sustainable models through GWH Immobilien Holding GmbH (GWH), which is part of the Helaba Group. Together with its subsidiaries, GWH is one of the largest housing companies in Germany. It builds, lets and manages residential properties; invests in innovative solutions for property ownership; develops living space and, in this way, guarantees a high quality of life for many people.

Around one fifth of the approximately 50,000 apartments managed by GWH are located on major housing estates with a certain sociocultural profile. GWH uses a variety of measures to ensure there is a social balance on housing estates, for example by providing apartments in low-cost segments; by making premises available for social purposes, such as youth care services and community centres, or by establishing drop-in centres. GWH continuously invests in insulation, window replacement and energy-efficient heating technology for its portfolio of apartments. In order to further optimise its services, GWH is currently developing an integrated action plan that will involve residents and local stakeholders in a dialogue by means of workshops, civic participation and questionnaires.

For Landesbausparkasse (LBS) Hessen-Thüringen, financing the energy-efficient refurbishment of buildings represents a key business segment. With its various range of financing solutions, it supports homeowners and makes a contribution to protecting the climate.

You can find additional information about GWH at:

Consumer protection

As a credit institution under public law, Helaba has a business model that is based on the long-term strategy of a universal bank with a regional focus, selected international presence and close integration into the Sparkassen-Finanzgruppe. Our activities with retail customers are exclusively conducted by Frankfurter Sparkasse and LBS Hessen-Thüringen and are developed in association with the Sparkassen-Finanzgruppe. Adherence to statutory requirements in the scope of relationships with customers of LBS Hessen-Thüringen is regulated in binding internal operating procedures.

Frankfurter Sparkasse’s ethics guidelines include a voluntary commitment to ensuring that their employees conduct themselves in a responsible and sensitive manner. The code of conduct of Frankfurter Sparkasse stipulates that employees must be focused on a customer’s needs and that they must meet them by providing the best possible advice. Frankfurter Sparkasse and its employees adhere to the accepted values of the Sparkassen organisation, to human and privacy rights as well as to additional values (among others, being customer-oriented and conducting themselves in a mutually respectful way). Adherence to these values is monitored and ensured by the association’s auditors, the bank’s internal audit department, the compliance department and by conducting customer surveys.

Financial inclusion

Access to finan­cial ser­vices

Within the Helaba Group, private customer business is primarily conducted by Frankfurter Sparkasse. Frankfurter Sparkasse’s Charter specifies that its mission is to provide access to financial services and promoting saving and to satisfying the demand for credit at local level. As the regional market leader in private customer business with the biggest branch network in Frankfurt am Main - comprising 75 branches and advice centres, more than 20 self-service banking centres and around 200 automated teller machines (ATMs), Frankfurter Sparkasse meets its mandate to operate in the public interest.

Frankfurter Sparkasse recognises financial inclusion as a key component of its mandate to operate in the public interest. To ensure that access to banking services is available to all sectors of the population, particularly economically and socially disadvantaged customers, Frankfurter Sparkasse offers various types of basic account. As at 31 December 2018, 1,328 basic accounts were offered (2017: 1,033). Frankfurter Sparkasse makes it easier for the blind and visually impaired to access its services by ensuring that each of its physical branches has at least one ATM with a headphone socket. The online branch of the Frankfurter Sparkasse offers completely barrier-free access to its media operations, too.

Frankfurter Sparkasse supports a variety of projects and initiatives that promote financial literacy for consumer households as well as entrepreneurship and starting a business. For example, the bank supports ConCap Connective Capital, a joint initiative of the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management and Bürgschaftsbank Hessen. It provides business start-ups and young entrepreneurs with an 80-percent guarantee in order to facilitate their access to loans of up to 50,000 euros.

Custo­mers with dif­ficul­ties meet­ing repay­ments

With the implementation of the Mortgage Credit Directive (WohnImmoRL) in March 2016, the German Federal Government introduced an obligation on credit institutions to provide information and advice to customers. A credit institution must provide information in case at least 50 percent of a credit line granted on an overdraft facility has been drawn upon for an average of more than three months. When the account statement is sent, the bank offers the customer the possibility of receiving advice and, if they are interested, requests that s/he contact their relevant customer adviser. If preventative measures are unsuccessful, the bank sends out a reminder (i.e. prior to a final termination notice) in which the option of advice is reiterated.

Customers of Landesbausparkasse (LBS) Hessen-Thüringen in financial difficulty generally have the option of agreeing a deferred payment plan. In addition, LBS attempts to find alternative solutions by contacting the customer at an early stage.

 Customer responsibility

For us, adhering to legal requirements in our customer relationships has the highest priority on all levels and is systematically guaranteed by comprehensive internal regulations. In its retail customer business, Frankfurter Sparkasse has developed sales guidelines that are based on regulatory requirements in the Securities Trading Act and that emphasise the interests of customers. The same applies to Landesbausparkasse LBS Hessen-Thüringen and to all direct banking services that are provided by 1822direkt.

Re­spon­sible marketing

We affirm our commitment to fair competition by gaining the trust of our customers with our expertise and values. Therefore, our marketing is always visible as a form of advertising communication and places an emphasis on the customer and their needs. We reject misleading or aggressive advertising in all its forms.

All analogue and digital advertisements are reviewed by a legal expert before their publication. The actual implementation of all rules and values is monitored and ensured by, among others, the association’s auditors, the bank’s internal audit department, the compliance department and, additionally in the case of Frankfurter Sparkasse, by conducting customer surveys.

The protection of personal data or other customer data is also at the centre of our marketing and sales activities. By involving Helaba’s Data Protection Officer as well as IT security management, we ensure adherence to statutory data protection provisions and to specific data processing purposes during the entire marketing process in the digital collection and transfer of data. This also applies to customer data that is obtained in connection with marketing campaigns.

Customer advice based on mutual trust

Our customer relationships are based on our core values of focusing on and respecting the customer. Over and above this, Frankfurter Sparkasse makes reference in its ethics guidelines to the particular responsibility and sensitivity that form the basis of their sales and marketing activities and advisory services, among other things.

In its sales practices, Frankfurter Sparkasse has implemented a customer advisory service that is based on mutual trust. Half of a customer adviser’s appraisal is based on qualitative targets in order to incentivise them to provide a high quality of advice. Frankfurter Sparkasse regularly organises training courses for its sales staff on the sales philosophy of Sparkassen, especially on the bank’s financing concept as well as on the application of consumer-related guidelines and laws. The effectiveness of these measures is regularly monitored by carrying out surveys among new and existing customers.

Opport­unities for redress

Helaba participates in the dispute resolution process of the Association of German Public Banks e.V. (VÖB). Customers have the option of calling the consumer arbitration service at VÖB. This service is free of charge for consumers.

In addition, customers of Frankfurter Sparkasse and Frankfurter Bankgesellschaft are able to approach the German Savings Banks Association (DSGV), where the facts at issue in the dispute can be reviewed free of charge. The aim is to achieve an extrajudicial resolution to any dispute between the customer and the Sparkasse.

A question of trust

What distinguishes good teamwork between the bank and its clients? What new values complement the traditional ones of reliability, continuity and discretion? Two managers from the NORMA Group and their Helaba partners provide the answers.

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