The bank for a changing world

Portrait of an intrapreneur: Catherine Wurth gives meaning to finance

  • Mathilde Cristiani Copywriter & storyteller
  • Paris
  • 11.12.2018

Since 2014, the People’s LAB has been encouraging employees with innovative ideas to mould them into workable business models supported by the Group’s internal investors. Today, the intrapreneurship programme, renamed People’sLab4Good and part of the Company Engagement Department, goes even further. Not only does it aim to foster positive-impact initiatives for the bank itself, but also for society at large. BNP Paribas is proud to present a series of profiles of its #Intrapreneurs4Good.

New ideas are in the air! What about introducing a socially responsible savings account allowing customers to give some meaning to their investments? Early this year, Catherine Wurth, CSR project leader at BGL BNP Paribas, the Luxembourg branch of BNP Paribas, entered the first-ever edition of the People’sLab4Good training programme with precisely this idea in mind. A line of thought that led to Finance4Good, a programme allowing customers to invest savings in a meaningful way, devoting some of their gains in businesses with a positive social or environmental impact. This undertaking is accompanied by relevant events and content developed especially for this particular community.

For Catherine Wurth, this project offered a way to satisfy bank customers while putting her own convictions into practice. Her approach is marked by moderation and determination, two of her defining character traits.  While attending the People’sLab4Good course, she developed a number of proofs of concept and demonstrated the necessity of introducing a solidarity savings product. Read on to learn about this qualified intrapreneur who's always been motivated by the desire to make a difference

A born activist

Catherine Wurth's history tells the story: the woman is naturally inclined towards action and experimentation. When asked where her drive comes from, she answers: “Even as a teen, I was something of a social activist.  I founded an association to raise funds for girl's education in Tanzania and the Comoro Islands. I also teamed up with friends to create a radio program about Nobel Prize winners to inspire people. I wanted to convey the message that we, as individuals, can all help change the world.

Her career has proceeded along the same lines. Her academic degrees were in subjects that would help her make a difference. “After studying political science in Paris, I headed for London to get a master's in development studies.” In between, she worked as a volunteer for an NGO in Tajikistan. Her heart was set on this real-world experience, despite the objections of family and friends. “I'd wanted to go right after high school, but I had difficulty to convince my parents. Once I got my undergraduate degree, I had to do some serious negotiating to get them to agree. This was the first time I'd managed a project with specific tasks, missions and objectives.” Her next move was to get a master's in public policy in Berlin. She then joined an NGO that helps public institutions hire more migrants to fill leadership positions (e.g. as consultants).

One of her duties was to help the NGO come up with new business models to raise its own funds and thus depend less on public subsidies. This experience – her first endeavour at working in the public interest while satisfying demand for profitability – showed that she had found her true calling, as confirmed by her subsequent career choices. Her next job was at Impact Hub Berlin, a network of social incubators, where she handled event planning and social media communication. Her first contacts with the world of finance dated from this period. “We hosted several entities working on impact investment projects. One of them, Save to Change, was trying to develop an algorithm to donate part of the interest generated by customer savings to NGOs,” she says. While Save to Change did not ultimately survive, it did provide her with inspiration.

An intrapreneur without knowing it

At this point, Catherine Wurth made a decisive career move. To increase her chances of making a difference, she decided to work for a big company. “I'd worked for several small entities and wanted to know if I could help make more of an impact at a larger organization. I knew the banking industry was in the process of reinventing itself, and thought I could contribute towards effecting change.” She joined BGL BNP Paribas and was put in charge of Microlux, its first microfinance project, where she learned the ropes of intrapreneurship or, at the very least, its mindset. As project leader, she was responsible for everything including legal matters, hiring and roll-out. “I had to go to the notaire's office to have the by-laws signed,” she recalls. “At the time, I wasn't familiar with the term of intrapreneurship, but it was definitely up to me to champion a project within the company.”

As the project unfolded, she observed that the best way to embed CSR thinking at each of our business entities is to propose concrete initiatives that will fundamentally transform it. “The idea of introducing a socially responsible account started to percolate in my head. I talked about it with my team and with my boss who, when I heard about the call for applications to attend People’sLab4Good, told me to go for it!” 

A good fit

The four-month programme turned out to be a revelation for Catherine Wurth, who had thought it would be limited to providing project development support. “I'd heard the word 'intrapreneurship' and was eager to learn,” she remarks. “I had no idea the course would be so intense, a real game-changer. It made me realize that I had a flair for entrepreneurship!” Having completed her training, she is now in a position to measure how far she's come.

I've totally assimilated the intrapraneurial approach,” she observes. “The job of project leader is quite tiring. It takes a great deal of energy and perseverance to see a project all the way through. You have to keep motivating those likely to help it succeed.” Obviously, she feels very much at home with her mission. “This project lets me do the kind of socially conscious work that I've always done, while contributing towards the transformation of my employer.”

An evangelist for intrapreneurship

Moving forward, Catherine Wurth is focusing on bringing her project to completion. “I take care of many technical details. This part of the job isn't very exciting, but it needs to be done.” Ideally, she'd like to develop a range of socially responsible products for BGL BNP Paribas and, if possible, at Group level. 

“I realized that I love the creative aspect of coming up with ideas and launching them. I like nothing more than to spot new trends and apply them to banking!

In her view, the dissemination of the intrapreneurial mindset represents another major challenge. “I think intrapreneurship is a good way to retain talented young people whose career may not be advancing as quickly as they'd like. They also need to feel useful and involved in the process of change.”  For Catherine Wurth, it is imperative to set up more internal entities to generate and implement good ideas. “As intrapreneurs, we have to inculcate this new culture. The employees need further convincing of its importance, especially when it comes to cross-Group collaboration.” Her final message is that “if we want to embed intrapreneurship in our corporate culture, it should be given real occupational status within the company. As for me, I'm ready to tackle the challenge!” 

I think intrapreneurship is a good way to retain talented young people whose career may not be advancing as quickly as they'd like. They also need to feel useful and involved in the process of change.

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