The Bruce Column — Finance for the future winners

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07 Dec 2017

The winners of the 2017 Finance for the Future awards highlighted just how far financial leadership focused on creating resilient and sustainable businesses and delivering environmental and social benefits has taken the world by storm. Robert Bruce, our resident, regular columnist, describes how the awards have gone international.

One of the winners of the 2017 Finance for the Future awards was the National Trust, a typically English organisation whose role is to preserve the nation’s heritage and coastline. Its finance team had taken a major role in shaping a new finance model which would increase maintenance and conservation spend while also investing more in strategic priorities. But the winners also included, for example, a company that had used an ingenious financing structure to enable a great leap forward in providing solar power in the domestic German market, a bank in Ecuador that had improved credit risk while embedding sustainability in customers and suppliers, a Canadian company that had digitised the process of bringing the providers of capital together with small farmers in Africa and South America, a Spanish company bringing change and benefits to infrastructure worldwide, a bank creating a digital platform to revolutionise the payments systems in Zimbabwe, and a Canadian telecommunications giant that upended the relationship between its real estate and its workforce to create better work/life balance and reduce its carbon footprint and that has been so successful that it now has a business mentoring other organisations wanting to follow its lead.

The judges all recognised that, however different and varied their paths, all these companies had triumphantly achieved the goals of the awards, and the hopes of the awards’ sponsors and supporters.

For the National Trust the importance was grasping the chance of change and taking a very complex change management programme through to a point where it delivered, for example, long-term planning programmes and significant growth in renewable energy. The finance team were ‘the key enablers in this to deliver strategy and be at the heart of sustainability’, they said.

For Banco Pichincha in Ecuador the catalyst was the realisation that it could introduce a system that measures social and environmental risks to inform investment decisions. Encouraging the implementation of social and governance measures at customers and suppliers has in turn brought about more secure businesses and hence more secure loans. Credit risk fell as governance measures grew. Ferrovial, a Spanish infrastructure company, views its integrated thinking as a competitive advantage, so they communicate this to their investors. Integrated thinking has brought immense and beneficial change to the infrastructure projects which the business built. ‘We create value trying to solve complex problems for society’, said its head of corporate responsibility. From building complicated road systems in the heart of Dallas in Texas to transport improvements in Colombia, all with benefits to congestion issues, carbon emissions and speed of travel for users, the integrated thinking at Ferrovial brought change and value to many users.

MEP Werke and Strasser Capital in Germany realised that the provision of ordinary domestic level solar power was precluded by the high upfront capital costs. The solution to develop an innovative financing structure which allowed the parcelling of solar lease contracts to enable the provision of solar power through small monthly rates. MEP Werke and Strasser Capital became the first to develop a structured financing solution targeted at long-term solar power leasing in Germany.

For Telus, the Canadian telecommunications giant, the catalyst for change was the realisation that it had an ageing real estate infrastructure and was using its staff in a very inefficient way. It created what it called a Work Styles project based around the work styles of employees. Once implemented this brought cost savings, better employee engagement and reduced its carbon footprint. The company is now in demand to provide mentoring for other organisations wanting to achieve the same type of change.

A number of other organisations were highly commended. The team at FAST in Montreal had a very different task. They created a digital platform to provide virtual matching between financial providers in the sustainable agriculture and forestry sector and the small farmers involved across Africa and South America. The digital platform will open up access to large amounts of previously untapped private investment capital.

And for Econet in Zimbabwe an original need to provide urgent cash transfers to refugees from the war in Burundi proved the catalyst for creating a mobile money business that now has more than 80% of Zimbabwe’s adult population accessing financial services. In a struggling economy a simple banking and payments system which is transforming social inclusion really makes an enormous difference to ordinary people.

But in the end all these disparate, and winning, examples have the same quality in common. They all derive from bright people in finance functions around the world, powered by a desire to build resilient and sustainable businesses, using integrated thinking to arrive at smart and simple, and award-winning, solutions.

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