Commercial Bank of Ceylon came up trumps in the sustainability stakes when it won the overall award for the Best Sustainability Report at the 2021 ACCA Sustainability Reporting Awards held in February this year. The bank also topped the banking category at the flagship event of ACCA Sri Lanka. In this interview, S Renganathan, Managing Director and Group Chief Executive Officer of Commercial Bank, explains why sustainability is integral to its success as the largest private bank in the country.
Can you tell us why sustainability matters to Commercial Bank and how it aligns with the bank’s core objectives and values?
As a domestic systemically important bank, we take our wide-ranging responsibilities seriously – and these responsibilities are entirely consistent with our vision to create value in the short, medium, and long term. Sustainability matters because a business cannot be in existence without it. Commercial Bank has completed a hundred years, and it is where it is today because sustainability has always been core to the business. Without it, Commercial Bank would not have had the successes it continues to build on today.
Our approach to sustainability is strategic and long term, rather than ad hoc and spur of the moment. We consider external and internal factors when incorporating sustainability into our strategic plans. We aim to consistently add value to our customers and stakeholders, make a lasting impact with thoughtful CSR programmes that foster financial inclusion, and manage our business processes to drive superior efficiency and sustainability gains.
Every Strategic Business Unit takes great care to incorporate sustainable business practices into every facet of its functions, and each of them has sustainability targets to achieve. We subject these targets and achievements to a periodical evaluation and close monitoring with the same attention and intensity that revenue and profitability get so we can identify areas for improvement and take swift corrective actions.
In our quest to be the financial sector leader that builds lasting partnerships across ecosystems, we endeavour to make every attempt to assist customers and suppliers become compliant with relevant requirements and regulations, including sustainability. Over the years, our efforts have been acknowledged and rewarded several times, the most recent being the Overall Winner of the Best Corporate Citizen Sustainability Awards 2021 by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.
Commercial Bank won the overall award for the Best Sustainability Report 2021 at the ACCA Sustainability Reporting Awards. Why is this significant?
Commercial Bank of Ceylon PLC is proud and honoured to be the overall winner and the winner in the banking category at the Sri Lanka Sustainability Reporting Awards 2021 by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) Sri Lanka after a comprehensive review process on par with international standards. Annual reports are a crucial medium that listed companies employ to communicate insights into wide-ranging core issues with all stakeholders from financial performance, overall strategic direction and sustainability. We are most proud that our 2020 annual report won the top award for its transparency, accountability and commitment to sustainability, which speaks volumes about our dedication to good governance.
As a responsible bank, not only are we wholeheartedly committed to moulding a work ethic around sustainable business practices, we are also committed to comprehensive reporting on our latest best practices in our annual reports. That helps us focus on our objectives and align our stakeholders on the importance of sustainability and how it influences our business operations.
Tell us about Commercial Bank’s sustainability initiatives and how are they integrated into the business?
Commercial Bank focuses its sustainability activities across three overarching themes anchored in strategic business alignment, culture and footprint, and responsibilities beyond the business. The three pillars of the sustainability focus are Sustainable Banking, Responsible Organisation and Community Impact.
Our sustainability initiatives are guided and monitored by a cross-functional Sustainability Steering Committee (SSC) comprising representation from key sustainability-linked functional areas. The measurement mechanisms include quarterly sustainability dashboards presented to management and internal dashboards compiled by the Sustainability Steering Committee covering 15 key areas.
As a bank, our direct impact on the environment is minimal, but we have reduced our carbon footprint and consumption of energy, paper and other resources that impact the environment.
There are several ways in which we have extended our sustainability focus. Commercial Bank is a pioneer in establishing state-of-the-art digital banking products that promote minimum customer footfall at branches, thus ensuring resource conservation whilst providing utmost convenience to customers. We also revolutionised digital banking by introducing features to our Flash mobile application to measure and offset customer impact on the environment.
We provide financing to enterprises that focus on renewable energy, resource efficiencies, waste management, emission reduction, smart agriculture and green buildings. Commercial Bank was one of the first to apply the Social and Environmental Risk Assessment System (SEMS) in Sri Lanka to screen lending projects to contain practices that could harm the environment.
We are the only bank to have achieved 100% carbon neutral status and one of the founder members – with 18 other members of the Sri Lanka Banks’ Association – of the Sustainable Banking Initiative (SBI). In our commitment to enable the country to transition into a green, inclusive and sustainable economy, the bank also pledges to actively contribute to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs), particularly SGDs 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 12 and 17 as they align with our philosophy.
You have a group-wide sustainability policy. How has it evolved since its introduction?
The bank has a comprehensive group-wide sustainability blue print that undergoes periodic review and updates by the high-level Sustainability Steering Committee created just for this purpose. Our integrated sustainability reports amply demonstrate our continuous commitment to ensuring adherence to the sustainability policy.