In Conversation with Audrey Nolan Head of CSR at Bank of Ireland



In this month of our In Conversation with series we are delighted to talk to Audrey Nolan, Head of CSR at Bank of Ireland


  • Please describe your role and responsibilities and how many years you have been in the company

I am Head of CSR & Reporting, in Bank of Ireland Group and have responsibility for a broad portfolio including CSR Strategy development; publication of CSR narrative; strategic charitable partnerships;  charity and community investment policy and programmes; Group reputation risk policy framework.

I have worked in various roles across the Bank over the past 22 years, most recently in Group Communications where the CSR programme fits as part of the Bank’s broader Communications Strategy.

  • What was your background previously? How did you enter the CSR field?

Earlier in my career, I worked in the Bank’s mortgage business in a business strategy & planning role.   Strategic development was informed by best practice models such as EFQM model (European Foundation for Quality Management) and Balanced Scorecard (Kaplan & Norton), which put a focus on the societal impacts of a business.  Out of this came a very active “business in the community” programme which encouraged staff to volunteer for projects in the local community.  Two stand-out projects for me were the installation of a new playground for an inner-city school and the re-decoration of a community centre.  I could clearly see the benefits, not only for the communities involved but also for our own people who were highly engaged in these programmes and in the relationships they forged with the community.  This type of community outreach is very much part of the Bank’s ethos and has always been a prominent feature in the way we do business.  Internationally, CSR began to emerge as trend in many different sectors, including financial services.  The Bank became a founding member of Business in the Community Ireland and, in 2003, the Bank created a dedicated role in CSR which I competed for and was lucky enough to be selected.

  •  How has the sustainability/CSR programme evolved at your company?

Obviously, a lot has changed in our sector and in our organisation since 2003 and the Bank’s CSR strategy has evolved with these changes.  In the early days, the focus was very much on the community and charity side of CSR and there was already a considerable array of activity in this space across the Bank.  In the wake of the Bank’s very successful sponsorship of the Special Olympics World Games in 2003, which saw over 1,000 staff volunteer, there was a strong appetite among our colleagues to facilitate their volunteering and fundraising efforts.  This led to the introduction of the Group’s charity and community investment initiative, Give Together, which is employee-led and supported by the Bank through the provision of paid volunteer leave, matched fundraising and payroll-giving.  Bringing all this activity under one umbrella was an important step in understanding the extent of our colleagues participation and, more importantly, to provide support and recognition for their efforts.  In the last 10 years through Give Together, over €28m has been raised for good causes by our colleagues.

Today, CSR in Bank of Ireland is embedded as a strategy in every part of our business and covers our interactions with Customers, Communities, Colleagues and the Environment as well as our approach to Governance.  We publish a comprehensive report of all these activities in our annual Responsible Business Report available to download from our website

The Bank was delighted to be accredited in recent weeks with the Business Working Responsibly mark.

  • What are the challenges you encounter in driving the sustainability agenda and how do you stay inspired?

I am constantly inspired by the amazing achievements of my colleagues across the whole organisation. Employee participation levels grow year on year from fundraising to volunteering and community outreach.  Through our workplace wellbeing programme, Be At Your Best, our staff come together to develop innovative and creative ways of supporting our flagship charities and getting behind good causes.  Recent highlights include – The Big Blue Box, which raised €83k for St Vincent de Paul supporting communities along the Wild Atlantic Way and our “Be our Inspiration” project in which colleagues developed their talents and raised over €100k for Barnardos.   Co-ordinating so many diverse activities can prove challenging, however the results speak for themselves.

  • What is your biggest accomplishment or learning so far?

Publication of our first Responsible Business Report in 2015 marked turning point in the external positioning of our CSR activity.  It has also been hugely important for our colleagues who have told us that it has helped to build their pride in the organisation.  But more importantly, it has become a catalyst for creating strategic engagement and improvement programmes in each of our Divisions.  What we have found is this – telling the story is in itself a powerful thing to do.

  • What is your motto in life?

I have always admired Audrey Hepburn , both as an actress and humanitarian.  One of her more famous quotes, which I like to use particularly in the context of CSR is:

Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you’ll find one at the end of your arm.  As you grow older you will discover that you have two hands – one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.”                    

  • What would a perfect day entail for you (outside of work)?

Simple pleasures are mostly what works best for me, so I would have to say a walk in the park with my family followed by a nice meal.  If the sun is shining that helps too!

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