"The place of companies in society must be treated as a business model", Antoine Sire - Les Echos
Interviewed by Muriel Jasor, Guillaume Maujean and François Vidal, for Les Echos. Antoine Sire, Director of Company Engagement, incorporated in the executive committee.
You have headed Company Engagement at BNP Paribas since 2017. What is the scope of your activity?
The Company Engagement department is tasked with defining and implementing the BNP Paribas Group's project regarding civil society. It consists of our CSR department, the Communications department, the BNP Paribas Foundation and a project team to ensure a comprehensive approach across the entire Group. It also has a functional link with the Diversity team, which is part of Human Resources. These teams together represent around 200 people. Through them, and their counterparts in 73 countries, the goal is to help all businesses and functions in the Group to combine economic efficiency with a positive impact on society.
Why did BNP Paribas decide to act regarding this subject?
Civil society is worried about the environment, inequality and local communities, and it expects companies to help in the search for solutions and to move into the ‘triple bottom-line’ era: a bottom line that incorporates social, environmental and financial criteria. Several companies have started to organise themselves, but in their own way as we are at the beginning of the process—there is no established model!
You are on the Executive Committee…a strong signal?
OUR SENIOR MANAGERS HAVE NOT HESITATED TO PUSH BACK THE FRONTIERS IN ALL THESE MATTERS; THIS IS AN ESSENTIAL REQUISITE FOR GENUINE ENGAGEMENT.
By creating a Company Engagement function represented on the Group’s Executive Committee, Jean-Laurent Bonnafé wanted to demonstrate the importance of this subject for senior management, but also to show that it is a matter for everyone. He has also taken up causes personally: in the area of the environment, or by becoming a ‘thematic champion’ for the HeForShe programme—the UN’s gender-equality initiative—or by signing the LGBT charter of France’s l’Autre Circle association or by mentoring winners of social startups in the La France s’engage programme. Our senior managers have not hesitated to push back the frontiers in all these matters; this is an essential requisite for genuine engagement.
What did BNP Paribas think about the recommendations of the Notat-Senard report?
The place of companies in society must be treated as a business model rather than a set of legal obligations and the report’s authors understand this well. You cannot legislate positivism - it comes about through ideas and the general climate. We fulfil 99% of the report's recommendations. It is proof of the integration of social impact into our business model. We have even defined our mission: support sustainable growth for our clients and contribute to a better future.
The place of companies in society must be treated as a business model
How do you plan to engage 200,000 employees in this adventure?
We have integrated the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals into our business project and quantified CSR commitments to be achieved by 2020. We are drawing up training programmes, but we know from our annual internal surveys that the company is ready to move into a new phase with respect to engagement. The world is pushing us to act, starting with our children who are judging us.
The world is pushing us to act, starting with our children who are judging us.
Our employees are aware of this and BNP Paribas’ culture is fertile ground. In the early 2000s, the Group established special relationships with local governments such as the Seine-Saint-Denis département north of Paris by locating our IT in Montreuil and Securities Services in Pantin. In addition, our CSR department has demonstrated its environmental expertise for several years—our environmental policy is today recognised by many organisations and extra-financial agencies, such as ShareAction which ranks us as a European leader in climate-related risk-management. We are a leader in green bonds, socially responsible investment and social business, and at the end of 2017 BNP Paribas became carbon-neutral.
Your engagement efforts are impacting many areas…
We have priorities such as the energy transition, the inclusion of youth, new forms of entrepreneurship, and our local footprint. We are developing new forms of positive-impact financing in the framework of our agreement with the United Nations and which are already operating as part of large agro-ecological projects in Indonesia and India. Our in-house, entrepreneur-incubator programme is oriented to researching inclusive solutions for the future. We received 200 applications for the 2017 intake and 20 projects are underway. Our relationship to society is reconnecting us to the original story of banking.
“Experience in social entrepreneurship, NGOs and microfinance are now part of our ‘Leaders for Tomorrow’ recruitment programme.”
Director of Company Engagement, BNP Paribas
Do you have incentive systems for managers?
CSR criteria make up 20% of the deferred compensation of senior executives—around 6,300 people. These criteria include a target of 30% of women in senior management by 2020 and goals regarding financing the energy transition.
Are CSR criteria reflected in all the bank's policies?
About 60% of our lending is governed by CSR sector policies. Today it is the risk-management department that ensures compliance for each of these decisions. This is tangible proof of the depth of our commitment.
What do clients think?
Our corporate clients are going through the same transformation as we are because investors increasingly have a longer-term vision. We support their CSR initiatives with innovative financial solutions which are well received. For individual customers, they are responding positively to concrete initiatives. These range from our developing responsible-savings products to preferred auto-loan conditions if customers buy an electric car. Finally, we know that commitment reflects positively on our employer brand. We will be working with educational institutions to disseminate this concept of ‘business with a positive impact’.
And what about younger hires?
Experience in social entrepreneurship, NGOs and microfinance are now part of our ‘Leaders for Tomorrow’ recruitment programme. We are also working with business heads to integrate ‘positive impact’ into their respective businesses. A Summer Camp organised for July by Human Resources will bring together business heads, impact ‘pioneers’, and up-and-coming talent, with the goal of them becoming the vanguard of our commitment to the positive economy.