Please describe your role and responsibilities, how many years you have been in the company?
I’m Sustainability & Community Affairs Manager at Ulster Bank – we’re an all-island bank employing around 5000 people. I work with colleagues across the business to help us achieve a positive impact on our society and communities – whether that’s improving benefits for our customers, investing in community initiatives like MoneySense, or encouraging staff involvement through volunteering and fundraising. I’m in the role since 2008, just as the sector was about to enter one of the most turbulent and difficult periods in banking history.
What was your background previously, how did you enter the CSR field?
I worked in consumer education and advocacy roles in the Financial Regulator before joining Ulster Bank – so I was immersed in the world of consumer rights and consumer protection around money issues.
Earlier in my career I had spent some years as Customer Relations manager in a bank – a role where I saw first hand the financial loss and distress that people can face when they make poor financial choices, or get bad advice. I’m a strong advocate of financial education. In fact that’s one of the things that attracted me to work with Ulster Bank – to lead the development of the MoneySense for schools programme and to know we have a long term commitment to financial capability.
How has the sustainability/CSR program evolved at your company?
Historically the focus was very much on staff fundraising and volunteering. That’s still a vital part of Ulster Bank’s DNA, but sustainability has now broadened and become much more strategic. Like most large organizations, we’re focused on engaging and developing our people, so that they are motivated to deliver outstanding service to our customers. We spend a lot more time in regular dialogue with our stakeholders, and tend to invest now in issues that are better aligned with our business rather than just a nice thing to do – eg supporting enterprise and financial education – these are issues that sustain our own long-term success and benefit our society and economy at the same time.
What are the challenges you encounter in driving the sustainability agenda and how do you stay inspired?
Keeping sustainability on the agenda during the most turbulent years in our economy and our sector has been challenging. I’ve tried to focus on doing a few things well, engaging our people and building relationships with community partners. We’ve gradually come to recognize that sustainability is one of the key ways to rebuild reputation and restore the trust of our people and our customers.
Like many of my peers in this role, I get inspiration all the time from what other companies are doing. I also feel lucky to have committed leaders and great colleagues in Ulster Bank and RBS – people who really get what CSR is about.
What is your biggest accomplishment or learning so far?
We achieved the BITCNI CORE mark and also the Business Working Responsibly mark last year – which was a great milestone for us.
A key thing I’ve learned is to keep building good relationships and open dialogue with stakeholders. No business exists in a vacuum, and the relationships that you cultivate gradually over time can build up ‘goodwill capital’ that will help you defend your reputation and withstand the tough times.
What is your motto in life?
Don’t let the grass grow under your feet – probably describes my motto best. I’m quite opportunistic – I hope in a good way! It’s important to keep scanning the horizon for emerging issues and to look at what kind of impact these might have on your business. Sustainability can be as much about spotting business opportunities as defending reputation and mitigating risk.
What would a perfect day entail for you?
A warm sunny day in the garden with family and friends over for barbeque – roll on summer!
If you would like to participate in this series please contact Nathalie Pavone at firstname.lastname@example.org