Fairer Future Case Study: why TSB signed the Good Business Charter

Fairer Future

5 min read

In our Fairer Future case study series, we interview leaders who are taking action in their businesses to create a fairer future. In 2019, TSB, a UK retail bank wanted to improve the impact of their community and society activity, and make their responsible business approach more strategic. Here, Katie Osiadacz, head of responsible business at TSB shares her experience of signing up to the Good Business Charter — and shows how simple commitments can help advance complex endeavours.

Key takeaways:

  • Having an overarching, organisation-level, responsible business strategy ensures great activity doesn’t go unnoticed, and connects the dots between local impact to create something larger than its constituent parts.
  • Make your responsible business strategy relevant to your organisation, but bigger than your organisation by working with external initiatives such as the Good Business Charter.
  • Make connecting with your people a key feature of your responsible business strategy to ingrain it into every aspect of your organisation.

What was the challenge?

“Because our actions were disjointed, we were leaving big gaps unaddressed.”

Back in 2019, as part of developing our business strategy, we wanted to assess TSB’s work with local communities and society in general, and realised two things:

  1. Our efforts were lacking an overarching structure; something that would bring them together into a coherent whole. Without that common narrative, much of the good we were already doing was either going unseen or only having a limited, localised impact.
  2. Because our actions were disjointed, we were leaving big gaps unaddressed. For example, our environmental commitments were a set of individual measures rather than a standardised approach. This made it difficult to track and compare which were most effective or to spot areas we might be missing.

We needed a better way to approach this. And so, what had started as a small-scale rethinking of our community-focused activities evolved into the Do What Matters Plan — a new strategy for how we conduct our business in a fairer, more sustainable way.

What was your strategy for addressing this challenge?

1. Make it relevant to your organisation — but far beyond your organisation

We carried out research with colleagues, customers and stakeholders on the contribution TSB should look to make. There was a lot of consensus on the types of activity a leading retail bank should engage with, alongside a clear steer that society-wide issues that can’t be solved by any one organisation acting alone. This is why we decided to sign the Good Business Charter (GBC) to support our Do What Matters plan.

2. Keep it simple

Unlike the big, often incredibly complex ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) programmes, the GBC also keeps things easy-to-understand. Most of us do not know how emission trading schemes work, but we all understand and value the things that the charter focuses on — whether that's paying living wages for employees, paying a fair amount of tax, or prompt payment to suppliers — and framing things in these terms helps you speak to people’s actual concerns instead of veering into the abstract

The way that the GBC works is quite straightforward: to be accredited you need to show a commitment to tackling each point covered by the charter and then you need to evidence your progress towards these goals. For an organisation like TSB, starting out in our ESG journey, this allowed us to resource the measurement of this appropriately and, rather aptly, get on with doing what matters.

3. Connect with your people

“The Do What Matters Plan sits at the heart of what all our people show up at work to achieve every day.”

ESG initiatives tend to be aimed at financial analysts and investor audiences, with consumers hearing trite headlines and with employees left as an afterthought. Often, projects are led by a small team until they’re ready to roll out, and the rest of the workforce learns about it in an internal email sent 15 minutes before the press release. That’s not how you get people on board and feeling ownership for the work, in turn helping to embed long-lasting, organisation-wide change. It's also a huge missed opportunity, given the growing appetite of employees wanting to drive social and environmental change through the businesses they work for.

So, in our case, we launched the Do What Matters Plan internally three months before announcing it to the wider world. Obviously, that increases the risk your plans might leak, but it was a small price to pay to guarantee that all our colleagues could understand what we were trying to achieve and the role that they’d be playing in delivering it. We wanted to know that if a passer-by stopped any of our TSB colleagues in the street, and asked, “What’s that Do What Matters thing you’ve just launched?”, they would be able to give a full and informed answer. This is probably the most unique and effective part of the plan, because it means the Do What Matters Plan sits at the heart of what all our people show up at work to achieve every day.

What impact has the Good Business Charter accreditation had so far?

The GBC has simply enabled all the good things that we were already planning to move faster, and to demonstrate that we’re a business doing the things our customers and colleagues expect of us.

Here’s a simple example: it’s crucial for us to process invoices speedily as part of our commitment to help our suppliers, but prior to signing the charter, pushing people to check and approve invoices quickly could be perceived as hassling them with admin. Now, we all understand that it’s not about bureaucracy and paperwork; it’s about helping small businesses with their cash flow. By bringing to life what our commitments mean in real terms to the people we work with, we drive the right kind of behaviour and make our colleagues feel proud and motivated about what they do. And as a result, we pay small suppliers in less than 7 days — the fastest in banking.

Externally, too, it’s having an effect. We are so proud to be the first high street bank to sign the Charter and use the logo on our website’s homepage. And we’ve refitted hundreds of branches with an entire wall dedicated to explaining it all. Long-term, we believe that the GBC has the potential to become something close to the Fairtrade or Rainforest Alliance logos: whilst we may not all be clear on the fine print, it’s a sign that — as a customer, or as an employee — you’re supporting a business that’s operating in a better, fairer way.

“We are so proud to be the first high street bank to sign the Charter.”

How do you sustain change?

For us, change will be sustained, and accelerated, in three main ways.

  1. Firstly, by keeping, and building on, the positive engagement TSB’s workforce has with our responsible business plan. We’re in a great position with our colleagues: 86% of them understand their role in helping to deliver the Do What Matters Plan — a stat we’re proud of and keen to retain. So, we’ll keep on involving colleagues in shaping our activities, and nurture a culture in TSB where sustainability is allowed to flourish.
  2. Secondly, increasing awareness among consumers and stakeholders of the good work we’re achieving through the Do What Matters Plan and GBC. Amongst businesses, there’s often a fear of being accused of “virtue signalling”, that blocks us from shouting about the positive impact we’re having. But all that does is prevent sustainability from being mainstream.
  3. And finally, continuing to set, and importantly deliver against, meaningful targets to demonstrate we’re a force for good.

This interview was hosted and written by Dr Scarlett Brown, Isabelle Green, and Maximilien van Gaver.

Do you know a person or organisation who are leading the change? Get in touch with us at thinktank@boardintelligence.com.

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