Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
»We are looking for allies«
Jörg Eigendorf, Head of Communication and Sustainability, on the important role of networks.
Mr Eigendorf, you’re not only Head of the Communications & Corporate Social Responsibility department, but also responsible for Sustainability at Deutsche Bank. What drives you personally?
In my opinion, one of the most important questions ever is how we humans fight climate change. And banks play a key role in this fight – first and foremost global banks like Deutsche Bank. One of the ways we help is by the things we do: sustainable loans, for example. And we can help by not doing certain things: for instance, transactions that pose a heightened risk to our climate. It’s a huge but highly motivating task.
The Sustainability function is actually only one of six functions in the Communications department. Ultimately, is sustainability more about sending positive messages?
Numerous companies, Deutsche Bank included, previously addressed sustainability from a reputational angle. Things have changed, though. Sustainability is now one of our strategic priorities and it’s also a factor that helps us achieve our financial objectives. And that’s why we have to steer and control the topic across the entire group. That is the main task of the Sustainability Council and the bank’s Sustainability team. So in my job, I’m dual hatting; I’m responsible for communications and reputation issues but also for sustainability. They are distinct topic areas. After all, we have to know what our stakeholders' concerns are – including non-governmental organizations; we need to be in constant dialogue with them on what we are doing and why.
As Chief Executive Officer Christian Sewing says, it’s obvious that Deutsche Bank can’t drive the change to a more sustainable economy on its own. How important are networks in promoting this goal?
They’re vital, one reason being that networks provide a forum for knowledge exchange. Anyone who wants to have a say in establishing rules and a framework needs to join others at the table. Without this, we wouldn’t be able to adequately assert our influence and would risk having to accept high regulation costs later. So it makes sense to be a part of these networks – if only from a business angle.
Where and how do you look for partners?
On many levels. We have strategic partnerships within the financial sector and beyond. As a member of the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative, we have been looking into how we can partner with other banks to feature climate risks more prominently in our risk assessment process. And as one of the founding members of the Value Balancing Alliance, a network of international corporates, we are working on a standardized method to measure and monetize the environmental and social impact of our business activities along the entire value chain. Of course, as one of the financial industry’s global voices, we also join in the political and regulatory debate. Europe is one of the forerunners here; in Asia we’re also seeing substantial momentum, while in other regions politicians are unfortunately still giving partially contrasting signals.
Head of the Communications & Corporate Social Responsibility department
Aren’t people very sceptical of banks? After all, they lost a great deal of trust during the financial crisis.
Yes, there is a general sense of scepticism but to a certain degree, that’s healthy. Recognising what happened in the past is also the basis for developing the necessary trust and altering people’s perception of us, with more and more people accepting us as a key ally. At the end of the day, we all have the same goal: a world worth living in.
But Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) are often among Deutsche Bank’s heftiest critics, for instance at the Annual General Meeting.
That’s what they’re there for, and we listen very carefully to what they have to say. NGOs have repeatedly drawn our attention to weak points or misguided developments – and rightly so. Their criticism also helps us inside our bank. Of course, there are times when we are of a different opinion and come under fire that is both excessive and unjustified. In these cases, we have to be transparent and explain what we are doing and why. No matter what, it’s clear that NGOs are important observers, following what we do, and we would do well to meet as equals.
»Sustainability is one of our strategic priorities and it’s also a factor that helps us achieve our financial objectives«
___________________ You also need allies within the bank to promote sustainability. Did you experience any opposition after taking up your position, say from the business divisions?
When I joined Deutsche Bank back in 2016, sustainability still hadn’t been sufficiently anchored in our business strategy; it was still perceived as a niche topic and as one element of social responsibility. Of course there has been opposition on numerous occasions. No one from the business is going to shout whoopee if they have to lose out on revenues because we’ve decided to tighten a bank policy. But in the meantime there has been a fundamental change in the mood here at the bank. On the Sustainability Council, business divisions cooperate closely with infrastructure functions; everyone understands that the topic is one of our strategic priorities. And nowadays it’s even the business divisions themselves that are driving the trend because it’s what their clients are asking for.
___________________ One last question: where do you see Deutsche Bank in ten years in terms of sustainability?
If you ask me, a ten-year span is far too long when you consider we’re talking about problems like climate change and social challenges that we need to tackle all across the world. I hope that very soon sustainable business practices become a natural part of our business model and a part of our strategic planning process. We’re ideally positioned, really, with our Corporate Bank and our Investment Bank on the one hand and our asset management business and the Private Bank on the other. We can cover the entire value chain. We just need to have it on our agenda and establish the right processes. In short: it won’t be long until we’re not only an exemplary corporate citizen but a profitable one, too. That should be everyone’s goal.