What positive impact means to PAM Award winner

Katie Royals, 12/07/2022

Alison Robb

Now in its 330th year, positive impact has been engrained in Coutts’ purpose since its founding.

The Coutts family has a history of philanthropy and supporting causes close to their hearts. Perhaps most prominent of these was Angela Burdett-Coutts who became nicknamed “queen of the poor” and even gained recognition from Queen Victoria for her charity work.

She defied the conventions of her time to focus her efforts on society’s must vulnerable and helped tackle deprivation.

Alison Robb, head of sustainability at Coutts, told thewealthnet that the private bank tries to keep this spirit alive.

The Coutts foundation was launched in 2013 in Ms Burdett-Coutts’ honour. On top of this, the staff at Coutts select a charity to support each year. This year’s is Future Frontiers – a charity supporting social mobility.

As part of the fundraising efforts and to celebrate the 330th anniversary, staff are taking part in a baton relay – running, cycling, swimming and even sailing to visit all of Coutts’ offices in the UK and Channel Islands.

Staff really get involved in fundraising and initiatives too. Even selecting the charity brings a significant amount of engagement from employees.

“I think it is the culture and the sort of people who work here. Everyone wants to get involved,” Ms Robb said.

“They are not just here to work, work, work.”

The firm always asks interviewees: “What do you see our purpose as being?” It’s looking for people who want to go beyond their day job and actually make a difference, Ms Robb explained.

The commitment comes from the top of the firm. Management all get involved and encourage staff – and themselves – to volunteer at the charities Coutts is supporting, and use their skills to help out. It is not just a case of signing cheques.

Ms Robb said: “It is all about doing things that are true to what we believe in”.

In this regard, “sustainability is important to [the firm], so it is built in”. Coutts do not have specific green funds, instead sustainability is integrated into its whole investment proposition.

It is this ethos which led the private bank to identify with and, later, become a member of the B Corp movement.

At its core, being a B Corp means sustainability is embedded into every decision a company makes.

It is also quite tangible. You have to score above 80 on the online assessment to achieve B Corp accreditation.

“Being able to see the progress is key for staff engagement,” Ms Robb explained. Staff are now actively interested and regularly suggest ideas about how their own teams and the wider bank can improve its score.

It also keeps the firm focused as it has to revalidate and show improvements every three years to remain a B Corp.

Moreover, “the clients love it”. So far, over 60 clients have spoken to Ms Robb and her team about the process and becoming a B Corp, while seven have actually submitted their own applications to become a B Corp.

Looking forward, Ms Robb believes sustainability is only going to move up the agenda in terms of importance.

“You have to embed sustainability into the business. It makes you more successful,” Mr Robb argued. Arguably more importantly, “you are also doing things in the right way.”

The majority of clients are aware and concerned about the climate crisis and they want to know their money is safe. Operating sustainably is now part of good governance – which is often the “forgotten part” of ESG.

Ms Robb believes sustainability is fast becoming mainstream across the industry.

“As [sustainability] becomes more entrenched, it will almost become business as usual – just things you have to do.”

The next step from there will be for businesses to become “more and more circular”, Ms Robb suggested. Currently, the vast majority of businesses still produce waste, which is something that needs to change.

Ms Robb is a big advocate of collaborative action. Coutts is part of the B Corp finance group, where everyone works together to improve their sustainable offerings.

“This is not where people should be taking competitive advantages. We should all be working together.”

The industry has “definitely” made progress in the past five years, Ms Robb stressed. Most firms now have teams focused on sustainability and the talent working in this area is ever-increasing.

However, “there is obviously more to do and we obviously need to be quicker”.

Coutts won the 2022 PAM Award for positive impact.