Being a fast growth organisation that’s also a ‘business for good’ sounds great on paper. But as ice cream moguls and social justice advocates, Ben & Jerry’s once said: “Business has never had improving the quality of life of the general public as one of its priorities.”
Mary Beighton, director of people & culture at car finance platform Zuto, is passionate about changing things for the better, delivering initiatives that create significant social impact and leading in the Manchester-based fintech’s recent B Corp certification.
Zuto joined a line-up of over 4,000 Certified B Corporations across the globe, including Patagonia, Innocent and We Transfer. Here she explains why Zuto was keen to join a growing movement of companies that are using business as a ‘force for good’.
Being in an industry like car finance, which has historically had an image problem when it comes to environmental, social and governance (ESG), we’ve seen first-hand how companies toss the greater good to the side in pursuit of commercial gain.
But committing to being a force for good doesn’t mean you have to forfeit success in all other areas of your business, even for companies in the financial sector.
In the words of Ben & Jerry’s: “When you are led by values, it doesn’t cost your business, it helps your business.”
The road to ethical finance
Ensuring the commitment to local community, employee wellbeing, and the environment is quantifiable and engrained into business operations is a challenge. This led us at Zuto to go for B Corp Certification. This is a rigorous assessment that verifies companies have met high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability.
Becoming a B Corp has been an extremely powerful tool for our business, helping us to acknowledge a higher purpose — from becoming an employer of choice, championing diversity, and being mindful of our planet.
But even with over 5,000 companies around the world joining the movement, there were only 38 financial services companies in the UK listed as B Corps last year. If more companies in the finance sector want to embrace a more ethical model, embarking on the B Corp journey is really the place to start.
Why go B Corp?
Becoming a B Corp, for us, was directly in line with our mission of bringing more transparency to the car finance sector. But besides fulfilling a mission statement, a commitment to ESG is becoming more and more important for companies from a competitive point of view.
A 2021 Eden McCallum study, for example, found that over a third (36 per cent) of UK consumers are now opting for brands with strong sustainability credentials. And another study from Ipsos claims that consumer preferences are being increasingly driven by the values of different brands, with factors such as a stance on social issues gaining more sway.
This trend has carried over into recruitment. According to new findings from Robert Half this year, over half of workers (53 per cent) wouldn’t accept a job from a company they perceived as ‘unethical’, and almost a third (30 per cent) would move elsewhere if ESG was not improved.
It’s very clear that customers, employees, suppliers and even investors are now watching companies through a magnifying glass before deciding to do business with them. So, besides making a meaningful difference to your industry, embarking on the B Corp journey is certainly not without its commercial benefits.
Putting the wheels in motion
When it comes to building ethical practices into your day-to-day operations, this must start by creating policies and a company culture that aligns with your ESG objectives.
Where there is a positive atmosphere and an environment where people can work together holistically, high-performance teams will thrive towards collective goals, and this can include ESG initiatives such as reducing office waste or supporting local charities.
Forming the right teams is, of course, paramount. And this means recruiting candidates who understand what ESG is and how it impacts them personally, as well as the business and industry at large.
For example, our Make a Difference fund with Forever Manchester has already supported 25 grassroots community groups in Greater Manchester — including food banks, support groups for domestic violence victims, and sports clubs for vulnerable youth.
And the teams overseeing our sustainability practices have ensured that all of our energy comes from 100% renewable sources and our office waste is recycled at source.
Putting employees first
Giving back to our people and ensuring they feel valued has also been key. After all, they are the ones making things happen every day.
And this is more important now than ever given the cost of living crisis. Prioritising employees’ financial wellbeing and making sure they have, not only a fair salary, but also a robust support package should be a top priority for any business looking to be a force for good.
At Zuto, this has meant becoming a Real Living Wage employer and managing salary adjustments against the longer-term landscape of inflation, as well as providing more immediate tools to support our people’s overall wellbeing, such as improved family friendly benefits.
If we are to truly usher in the new era of ethical finance, more companies need to get on board by putting the greater good at the forefront of their business. In doing this, everyone can benefit.
A commitment to ESG doesn’t just mean better outcomes for employees, local communities, and the environment. Companies that embrace a more ethical model will find it easier to attract new customers and recruit the best talent in their industry.
For fintechs looking to kickstart this change, this will mean drilling down into each business practice to ensure they are in line with the ESG pillars, as well as identifying new initiatives that can make a positive impact — from supporting local community groups to creating great places to work.
The process of becoming a B Corp has helped us tremendously on this journey, and we hope to see more fintechs join us on the path towards a more sustainable finance sector.
I’ll let Jerry have the final word: “Businesses can lead with their values and make money, too. You don’t have to simply be purely profit-driven. You can integrate social and environmental concerns into a business, be a caring business, be a generous business and still do very well financially.”