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Why becoming a B Corp means so much to us

November 30, 2021
September 11, 2020
We might have celebrated our B Corp certification this year, but we have been “doing good” for the best part of two decades now. So why get certified? Fiona Nixon, our Head of Strategy and Communications, explains why this is about so much more than box-ticking.

Being certified as a B Corp is fantastic – there are simply no two ways about it. For us as a bank, but also for us as a collection of individuals who care about this planet and the people in it, it’s a huge deal.

But it isn’t just a case of us just ‘passing a test’, answering some questions right, and then resting on our laurels. It’s validation of the work our team has carried out over nearly two decades, and blueprint for the decades to come.

You see, Bank Australia first decided to head down the sustainability track in 2003. The decision came during a large merger – three credit unions were coming together to form what we now know as Bank Australia and, at the time, there was a bit of soul searching about what the purpose of this new entity would be.

Coming from a credit union background, the bank was already full of staff and customers who really cared about making a positive impact in their communities, so we began thinking about how we might start to use the power of a bank to address more of the contemporary issues we all face. It took a while to build and implement a strategy, but we eventually settled on the idea of being a triple-bottom line bank – one that stands for people, planet and profit.

Our two main focuses at the time were climate action and caring for our customers and communities. From a climate and environmental point of view, our operations have been carbon neutral since 2011, we’ve grown our business in line with sustainable development principles and we’ve been implementing innovative climate-forward initiatives (like establishing our customer owned Conservation Reserve) since 2008. More recently we’ve pursued commitments such as using 100% renewable electricity, which we met in 2019. And while we were doing all of this work, we became a member of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values.

For our customers and communities, we leaned into the idea of being a responsible bank. To us, that meant finding a balance between empowering individuals with the support they need to realise their dreams (or even just mildly improve their living situations), and choosing not to lend if we thought this would place a customer under financial pressure in making repayments.

It meant other things, too – like supporting local community initiatives and finding ways to fund housing for people living with disability. We were part of the Trailblazer Financial Inclusion Action Plan, which aims to increase financial inclusion and resilience among all Australians. We were making progress on a number of fronts.

And then B Corp came along.

We’d always kept an eye on B Corp, however before we engaged in the certification process, we wanted to make sure that the assessment was rigorous, and really built to the point that it truly represented best practice for ethical businesses.

So we waited. And as the years ticked by, we grew increasingly confident in the certification and its ability to not just to identify the most ethical and responsibly-minded businesses in Australia, but to provide those businesses with an incredibly robust framework that they could use to keep improving well into the future.

So, when the time was right, we went for it. The application itself involved an amazing online assessment, which contained in excess of 300 questions. We brought together a working group across the bank, which helped get lots of the team get excited about our mission to become a B Corp.

All told, it took around five months to get all the information and evidence together. And every single question on the assessment across all five Impact Areas – Governance, Workers, Community, Environment and Customers – gave us more and more confidence about how seriously B Corp takes their work. For example, in the Customer area, they wanted to know about how the bank markets itself to customers and how we use and protect customer data.

Another example was the assessment of our supply chain and how we support local suppliers in the areas where we have a presence. We have a large presence in the Gippsland region of Victoria and B Corp wanted to see lists of the local suppliers we use in the area in order to score points in this part of the assessment. That’s how seriously they take it – the detail was fantastic. Even I was surprised!

Now, we’ve created an internal working group called the B Hive. This team is full of people from all across the bank, and over the next few months they’ll work to put together a three-year strategy that aligns with the B Corp framework and sets us up to do even better over the coming years.

So what does becoming a B Corp mean for us? It isn’t a reinvention of our business by any means. If B Corp didn’t exist, we’d still be doing whatever we could to use our influence and capital as a force for good in the world.

But B Corp provides us with a robust framework to work from, helps us better identify our strengths and weaknesses, and gives us an incredible springboard from which we can keep striving to be better.

Not only that, but it’s a message to our customers that says: we take this very seriously, and we’re in it for the long haul. As an individual, and a Bank Australia employee and customer, that makes me incredibly proud.

You can read our full B Impact report on the B Corp website.

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