“Our hands-on approach bears fruit”

08 June 2020 | Corporate

Sustainability issues were top of mind in 2019, and were embraced by activists on a number of occasions. Meanwhile, Delen Private Bank stuck firmly to its pragmatic approach.

“We like to bring our influence to bear where it is greatest: through our investments,” says René Havaux, the bank's CEO. Along with Eric Lechien (Executive Director responsible for sustainability policy) and Jean-Louis de Hasque (Investment Office, with shared responsibility for sustainability policy), he explains the key results in the area of sustainability.

2019 was the year of climate deniers, yellow vests, Extinction Rebellion … does this resonate with you?

René: Of course I understand that people are worried or angry. But we lean more towards evolution, than revolution. Thanks to our in-house patrimonial funds, we have the right to make our own decisions about how to invest more than 26 billion euros. We can channel that capital to companies that are consciously committed to a beautiful, fair, healthy world. That leverage is powerful.

Through its investment policy, the bank has a lever of more than 26 billion euros at its disposal.

Jean-Louis: Absolutely. Particularly as the bank systematically applies its sustainable investment philosophy to each and every portfolio. It does this by excluding non-sustainable companies and, more especially, through dialogue with the business community and by incorporating non-financial parameters in the investment process. The upshot is that this huge amount of capital, all 26 billion euros of it, finds its way to companies that are shaping the future in a smart and sustainable way. Our emphasis is on companies that are making progress in the area of climate and sustainable consumption, such as oil companies that are committed to the energy transition, or technology companies offering solutions for infrastructure and telecommunication. To achieve this, we work with two partners: Sustainalytics and Hermes EOS. They supply us with data, expertise, and analysis. Incidentally, the bank's efforts have been recognised by the United Nations, who gave us the highest possible score for the ‘Strategy & policy’ module. This is an incentive for us to forge ahead on the path we've taken.

Another bit of controversy that made headlines in 2019 were the (alleged) money laundering practices. Is the bank stepping up the fight? 

René: The bank pursues a prudent strategy, including in regard to compliance. We steer well clear of intransparent fiscal structures. We have always been careful to establish the origin of our clients’ assets. In the short term, this might be a handicap; you could argue that we miss out on some capital because of our stringent approach. But in the long term, it's a real benefit, for the client and for the bank. Why wouldn't we help our client prove that everything is in order? Thanks to the digital archive, the client has instant access to all the important documents about transactions. This transparency creates assurance and peace of mind.  

We invest in cutting-edge technologies. Our profitability allows us to do so.

Eric: Technology is important in combating money laundering. But let's not forget the human factor, by which I mean the careful and cautious mindset of our own people, and of our clients. Investing time and people in compliance has always been our priority, and it always will be. 

Technology and people is doubtless a winning combination for data security too?

Eric: It is. In a sector where discretion and trust are core values, cybersecurity and data protection are of paramount importance. We continually recruit young IT talents who specialise in that area. And we invest in cutting-edge technologies. Our profitability allows us to do so. That brings us into a very comfortable position, because the obligations in regard to data security are – rightly – huge.  

You talk about climate, sustainable consumption, justice. These are examples of the famous Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs.  

Eric: Indeed, the United Nations has set seventeen sustainable development goals which it wants to be achieved by 2030. Originally, they were aimed only at governments, but the business community has since jumped on the bandwagon too. We selected four SDGs on which the bank is willing and able to exert a material impact. Through our investments, we stimulate climate (SDG 13) and responsible consumption and production (SDG 12). For our organisation itself, we identified economic growth (SDG 8) and justice (SDG 16).

Jean-Louis: These four goals were selected by the bank's sustainability council. Our primary task is raising awareness throughout the organisation, because sustainability is everyone's business. In addition, the team reports on and monitors the specific sustainability-related KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and, since this year, the four SDGs, an approach in which our shareholder Ackermans & Van Haaren is fully involved. 

Eric Lechien, René Havaux and Jean-Louis de Hasque

What has the bank achieved in regard to goal 8, economic growth?  

René: The launch of Delen Family Services is certainly one example. This new service reflects the essence of our mission: asset protection. It is an overview and planning tool which maps the client's entire assets. This enables the client to think ahead, over generations. The first step towards obtaining this overview of assets is the digital archive, where the client can safely keep all the important documents. Simulations give the client an insight into how his assets will develop in the future, and the inheritance tax he will have to pay. This insight is an incentive for the client to engage in rational inheritance planning, with the assistance of our lawyers and tax advisors.  

Eric: Goal 8 also encompasses our role as an employer. The bank strives to create an environment in which employees feel happy. We create a warm and efficient organisation, where cooperation is the best route to success. I think that our general values of simplicity, transparency, and prudence also contribute to economic growth, for the bank, its clients and its employees. 

Does the issue of sustainability resonate with clients?  

Jean-Louis: If we are to believe our recent satisfaction report, yes. This reveals that 93% of respondents feel sustainability is important. This figure proves that our strategy of responsible investing appeals to our clients. 

Eric: The biggest impact lies in our investment policy, that much is certain. But clients expect us to practice what we preach, which is why we are directly engaged. This year, we began working with Co2logic, which advises us on reducing our environmental footprint. We're looking, for instance, at the best way to encourage use of electric vehicles. And when refurbishing our offices, we seek a balanced mix between respect for the architectural legacy, comfort for the client, modern efficiency, and energy-efficient solutions. 

Going back to where we started: society's demand for sustainable solutions has never been greater. Can the financial sector save the world? 

René: It certainly can't save the world single-handed. But we mustn't underestimate our own responsibility. We absolutely can be part of the solution. Our sustainable investment policy is our most potent weapon. And we keep on refining it. We're just at the beginning of a long process. 

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