At Seylan Bank, profits and sustainability go together

Seylan Bank PLC is busting misconceptions about sustainability that it is a cost to business organisations.

THE BANK BELIEVES THAT sustainability initiatives can drive long term brand equity, and together with the need to create returns on investment, ties in with Seylan’s key strategic priorities which includes consistent wealth creation and sustainable growth.

Banks are viewed as profit-driven organizations. What makes Seylan Bank look beyond profits, to ensure sustainability is a part of its core business strategy?

As a public organization that lives by its motto ‘The Bank with a Heart”, we are committed to deliver the maximum economic value to our investors in a sustainable manner without compromising the quality of our products and services. This is what provides them the assurance on the safety of investments made by them, and in extension ensures the sustainability of the organisation.

At the same time, as a responsible corporate citizen, we apply strict ethics and constant awareness of social responsibility to every part of our business model. This is designed to foster economically fulfilling and environmentally friendly livelihoods not only amongst our stakeholders, but the wider community we live in and interact with.

It is a misconception that if you focus on giving back to the community, you will lose out on business profits. Sustainability initiatives and CSR drive long term brand equity, and together with the need to create returns on investment, tie right in with the bank’s key strategic priorities of consistent wealth creation, sustainable growth and returns to all stakeholders, and the commitment to transparency and responsible banking.

Thus, profits and commitment to sustainability work together, and are not at odds with each other.

Tell us about Seylan’s sustainability initiatives and how important is it to the bank.

Seylan Bank’s approach to business sustainability revolves not only around the immediate stakeholders to our business, but also the community we live in. informed investors, satisfied customers, motivated employees and trusted partners are all vital parts of our work as a responsible corporate citizen, as are the communities we work with and the environment that we work in. Our sustainability overtures for investors, customers, employees and business partners are integrated with how we do business. We consider transparency and ethical conduct in daily interactions with stakeholders to be paramount. Our values demand that these tenets are embedded in the culture of the organisation and practiced in every aspect of work.

The protection of the environment and upliftment of society is a vital component of modern business practice. No one can deny it. Therefore, we have a long-standing commitment to minimizing both the direct and indirect impact on our environment arising from our business activities, whilst at the same time doing everything we can do to protect and replenish the natural resources around us. With the help of international experts, we have established a rigorous Environmental & Social Management System which now forms part of our lending and operating guidelines. This impacts not only how we work but also monitors and guides our customers and borrowers to ensure their projects and activities are environmentally and socially friendly.

In line with the above, Seylan bank as at end of 2019, opened 200 libraries in 25 districts across the nation. The bank recycled over 141,000kg of paper reducing 39% of its carbon footprint, saved 2,408 trees through waste management initiatives, initiated over 10,000 paperless credit appraisals, organized 10 SME capacity building programs and over 120 events consisting of “Tikiri” kids banking days and other engagements. The bank has also taken steps to carry out green initiatives to further enhance the positive impact we have on the environment; ensuring that not only are its products and services compliant with applicable environmental and social impact, but also the projects it supports during the normal course of business.

The thrust of our CSR efforts goes into the education of children. We believe that education is the foundation of sustainable economic development. Societies comprising literate and skilled individuals are able to make use of challenging opportunities as they arise and are more likely to succeed.

To this end, we continue our flagship CSR program, the “Seylan Pahasara” library project which was launched in March 2013 in a bid to provide students an environment which promotes reading and IT literacy. We are proud to say that by the end of last year, 200 libraries have been established by us throughout the country. Our teams identified schools which have sub-standard libraries and large student populations, with the intention of enhancing infrastructure and raising standards of those libraries. In addition, we also set up interactive learn ing centers with computers to enhance their learning experience.

Does being a sustainability driven organization have any impact on the banks bottom-line, whether negative or positive?

Sustainability does have an impact on the bottom-line. While it is currently difficult to quantify it in exact numbers, we believe in the greater impact on the environment and people along with profits, or what is known as the “triple bottom-line”, that is recognized throughout the industry.

How important is it for banks to think sustainability?

It is vital for banks to think sustainably. Not only in terms of our own practices, but also in relation to stakeholders, and the environment.

Seylan Bank is optimistic and actively engages in focus driven partnerships that avail sustainable results for the stakeholders in an inclusive manner. Envisioning practical implementation without being confined to mere terms and conditions on paper, we guide and nurture our partnerships in promoting a transition towards green banking and green financing. This also carries a national mandate via the sustainable development roadmap of the Central Bank.

We are a signatory to 11 sustainable banking principles crafted by Sri Lanka Banks’ Association Sustainable Banking Initiative (SLBA SBI) which is recognised by the CBSL as a way forward for the sustainable finance journey in Sri Lanka, where an environmentally and socially agile level playing field would be developed across the industry of banking.

Does Seylan Bank have a group wide sustainability policy, and how has it evolved since its introduction?

Yes, we do. The bank is committed to community development and believes it to be a process of empowering individuals and groups to improve their livelihood within their community as opposed to fostering dependency. We seek to progressively shift our voluntary CSR activity into the realm of even more meaningful sustainability. We approach our role in social responsibility by directing our efforts to spread economic prosperity amongst the widest possible extent of the community.

Our initiatives in this regard are always undertaken with the active participation of the staff of the Bank’s island-wide network of branches, making it a truly sustainable model. The projects are structured to deliver value to communities and promote economic development.

On what parameters are your company’s sustainability initiatives based? Do you base it on a percentage of profits or on innovative concepts that lend to the nation’s growth?

As stated earlier, we have not based the bank’s sustainability narrative on a monetary footing. Being vigilant and active to mitigate detrimental impacts on people and the environment, the bank’s strategic approaches and business engagements with people and environment go hand in hand with ethical corporate governance that conform with laws, rules and regulations and local and international best practices. From a holistic perspective, we adhere to the growth of the triple bottom-line. This means we ensure maximum return on investment for investors, growth opportunity for our employees, fair trade practices with our suppliers and service providers, and environment and socially focused day-to-day business practices.

More specifically, our focus for CSR is in the future leaders of the country. The Seylan Pahasara programme, “Sipsal Pubuduwa” programme, and empowering rural villages through education are only a few of the many programs we continuously rollout to ensure that children get the most benefit of our sustainable growth overtures. In fact, I am very proud of our shareholders, who decided to utilise sales proceeds of scrip dividends on pure charity, and enabled the enhancing of facilities at “Dippitiya Dwithika Kanishta Vidyalaya”, an underprivileged school off Katugastota.

How do you think Seylan as a recognized financial institution can contribute towards today’s startup businesses to engineer a sustainability mindset?

Successful and sustainable businesses are focused on the creation of new products, services, or practices that address or mitigate environmental and social concerns in innovative new ways. Therefore, startups are ideally positioned to kick off their businesses the right way, so that they don’t have to think about sustainability retroactively. As a progressive financial institution embracing digitization and the growing gig economy, we are open to support startups, with the necessary financial backing to ease them into the market.