If ever we were waiting for the opportunity to change the way we do business, surely now is the time.
From a summer of smoke, to a pandemic that has further exposed the cracks in our fragile systems, 2020 is our long-overdue wake-up call.
We can no longer accept a world where the same people are always hit first, and hit hardest, and where businesses are not held accountable for exploiting people or the planet.
The evidence is plain for all to see: the old-school way of doing business is unsustainable, extractive, and not going to create the kind of world we need now, or into the future.
By now, it’s hard to mount a compelling case that companies shouldn’t be held accountable for their environmental and societal impact.
But, in righting the wrongs of the past, one thing we can all agree on is that some industries have more heavy lifting to do than others, and the finance industry is one of those.
Following the damaging Hayne royal commission in 2019, it’s hard to argue that the finance industry has not played a key role in perpetuating systems and structures that have created prosperity and wealth for some, and the continued oppression and exploitation of others.
Finance is an industry known for hiding details in the fine print, characterised by predatory behaviours and some really awful business practices.
It’s one thing to ‘talk the talk’ about being ethical and sustainable, and it’s another thing to actually live it. Talk is cheap, and the time to walk is now.
It’s time for a more ethical and equal financial system where no one is left behind, and ethical finance must be the cornerstone of our post-COVID-19 recovery.
I’ve always been of the opinion that if we want a new normal for this industry, then we have to be prepared to create it, not just heckle from the cheap seats. We need to think about the cultural and attitudinal change that our society and systems need, then design for it, measure it, and be held accountable for it.
We know that consumers increasingly want their financial services to be more ethical, and they want proof, and rightly so.
In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced consumers’ desire to support businesses putting people and the planet ahead of profits, Deloitte has found.
So what does change in the finance industry look like?
It looks like radical transparency, making facts and figures publicly available, and putting your hand up when you do something wrong.
It looks like seeing people as more than walking dollar signs.
It looks like seeing the planet as more than something you can extract resources from and use for your own benefit.
It looks like working with communities and customers that are ‘more complex’ or underserved.
It looks like choosing sustainable vendors and offering eco-friendly products and services at competitive prices.
It looks like measuring things other than our bottom line — think triple or quadruple bottom lines — and deeply understanding ethical doesn’t mean unprofitable.
There is no meaningful success without sustainability and, if your business is operating for the gain of some but at the exploitation of others, then it’s only a matter of time before your services will be rendered meaningless.
And the proof is in the pudding.
Doing business in a sustainable way has made some companies profitable even during a pandemic because, and here’s the kicker, people actually want to work with companies they believe in and feel good about.
By now you’ve probably heard the phrase ‘building back better’.
More than just a feel-good slogan, it has become the catch cry of the B Corp and purpose-driven business movement in Australia. It signifies a shift to purchasing from companies that can deliver high-quality products and services, that reduce inequality, that create a healthier environment, and that promote stronger communities built on dignity and purpose.
Investing in, supporting and buying from companies that are driven by purpose, impact and values serves as a beacon for the future of business and for a post-pandemic economic, social and environmental recovery.
If the pandemic has reminded us of anything, it’s that we are all connected, and that radical transparency and accountability are not just ‘nice to haves’ but are at the core of what it means to do ‘good business’.
In many ways, this is the best chance we’re ever going to get to do away with ‘business as usual’.
We must acknowledge that this race towards exponential growth and profit, with little regard for the impacts on our fellow human beings, our planet or future generations, is a race to the bottom where there will be no winners.