The path to best in class CSR: Northern Trust

BITCI News - Jul 27, 2015

Being a responsible business helps Northern Trust Limerick engage staff, help its local community and win business in a competitive environment. Securing the Business Working Responsibly Mark for this work has boosted the Irish operation’s global profile too.

Business in the CommunityNorthern Trust is a leading provider of investment management, asset and fund administration services for both corporate clients and affluent individuals.

Listed on the Nasdaq, the Chicago, US headquartered business has, as of March 2015, USD 960 billion in assets under management. It has more than 15,000 employees in 40 countries, including two in Ireland – Dublin and Limerick – which employ 1050 people.

In Limerick, the staff count is set to increase significantly. The company, which has had a presence Shannonside since 2006, is to expand operations there with the addition of 400 new roles by 2017.

For Catherine Duffy, general manager of Northern Trust Limerick, and president of Limerick Chamber of Commerce, it is a busy time. To cap it all off, the company recently received the Business Working Responsibly Mark.

The Mark, awarded by Business in the Community, Ireland’s network for corporate social responsibility, is Ireland’s only certification for responsible and sustainable business practices.

Awarded only after a rigorous assessment, for Duffy, securing the Mark was important not in spite of being in a period of rapid expansion but because of it.

“We are recruiting so many, and growing so fast, it really helps that now we are able to say to people that we have the Mark. Candidates like to know what kind of a company they are joining and the Mark is an accreditation of value. It has become an important part of our recruitment strategy,” said Duffy.

Limerick is home to some of the most innovative and successful companies, both multinationals and indigenous, in Ireland. All of these look to attract the brightest and the best young graduates around.

To do that, Northern Trust must maintain its status as ‘an employer of choice’, a first preference for top calibre graduates in the region.

“What people want, and not just graduates but mature candidates too, is to join companies that are good corporate citizens. They want to see your CSR (corporate social responsibility) credentials. In an increasingly competitive recruitment environment, the Mark is an important differentiator for us, particularly as we are the first fund administrator to achieve it,” said Duffy.

The wider market is paying attention too. “Every year we publish our CSR annual report and clients are interested in it. What’s more, when we are bidding for business, part of that involves laying out what our CSR policy is. We find that, increasingly, clients are very in tune with this.”

Work in this area sits well with the company’s core values. “Our guiding principles at Northern Trust are service, expertise and integrity. We have aligned CSR policy with these,” said Duffy who has been with the company for 25 years.

Within that time she has seen a shift in the importance with which CSR is now viewed. “Would we even have been having a conversation about it 10 years ago? It certainly wasn’t as high on the radar as it is now,” she said.

Embracing CSR as a core contributor to competitive advantage is now imperative for any business, she feels. “Being a socially responsible company contributes directly to our financial success. People hear about banks in the news all the time, and it’s not often good. At Northern Trust that means we have to work harder to show ourselves as good corporate citizens,” she said.

The Mark is a good way of doing just that, particularly as it is a dynamic seal of approval. It isn’t enough to achieve it once, you have to hold on to it.

“That suits us perfectly because you can’t stand still in business. What is fabulous about the Mark is that it is something we keep having to look at. We will be assessed again in two years,” she said.

Getting it is therefore a declaration of ongoing intent rather than a once off achievement. It’s also a hostage to fortune, she acknowledges. To seek out and secure the Mark means a company is wholly committed to being a responsible business. A company can’t publicise it then and not walk the talk, “that’s the discipline of it”, she said.

Above all perhaps, securing the Mark was a validation of the work of the company’s staff. “When we won it we had a celebration. Everybody was so proud to be able to put the Mark on their emails. It’s very highly thought of internally,” she said.

It has changed the way the company views its own supply chain. “When we are looking for suppliers we look to see their own CSR credentials too,” she said.

It’s ironic, given that initially, as a service business, Duffy had feared the Mark was not suitable for Northern Trust. “We are not a manufacturing operation. At first we were worried it wasn’t going to be something we could participate in but the more we looked at the Mark the more we could see there were so many CSR areas we were already active in. And indeed, though the vast bulk of our supplied goods stationary and furniture, even within this narrow range we have scope to look at our suppliers in terms of their own CSR activities.” Winning it was onerous she admits. “There was a lot to it, measuring everything from our volunteering initiatives to such issues as staff diversity and staff training programmes” she said. To get it done she put together a cross functional team, cross border team. “We even had a colleague fly in from our HQ in Chicago for the audit, so in our case it was a global effort,” said Duffy, who drew up a 100 day plan, led by a project manager to keep the effort on track.

“We didn’t look to be audited until we were happy with every element of it. Then, when we got it, we were high fiving all over the place. The great thing was that, even though we knew we did so much on the CSR front, we had never brought it all together like that before.” If it was a cross border team, it was a cross border reward too. “Internally we got huge kudos from throughout Northern Trust for having won the Mark,” she said.

“The interest globally has been terrific. We’ve had loads of great opportunities to go out and explain it within the organisation which has been a great plug for our Ireland operations.”


Pictured above from left An Tanaiste Joan Burton, Clive Bellows Northern Trust CEO and Business in the Community Ireland Chairman Kieran McGowan.

Click here to access more case studies on the Business Working Responsibly Mark.