You’ve probably heard about the concept of sustainability, but have you considered it in the context of the ARM industry? If you haven’t, you should because I suspect your clients, investors, and employees will be asking you about it soon.
This Investopedia article provides a great summary of the 3 pillars of corporate sustainability: economic, environmental, and social. Another term you may have heard of is ESG, for “environment, social, governance”.
In the call center world, the environmental pillar includes things like how you light, heat, or cool your facility; how you dispose of old technology; or whether you provide incentives for employees to carpool, use public transportation, or work remotely.
The social side of a sustainable business will include fair pay and benefits, treating people well, and being a good community member. Many companies in our industry do charitable work. I know because we regularly publish about it. Does your work go beyond writing the occasional check or collecting toys during the holidays? Another element of the social pillar is diversity and inclusion. What does your management team look like? What backgrounds do they come from? Does your culture support a wide range of employee needs and beliefs? Does your organization have pay equity? Do your bonus programs incent behavior that would be considered sustainable in the social context?
A business that is truly integrated into the community might have an advantage over one that isn’t. An obvious opportunity for the ARM industry is to actively help people to develop financial literacy and other skills to avoid past-due debt in the first place.
The economic pillar relates to having strong corporate governance, compliance, and risk management -- including cyber security. The ARM industry is certainly well versed in many of these areas but the threats are ever-evolving, and the challenge can sometimes be to ensure that this pillar is in balance with the others.
Why should you care?
Aside from creating a better world for our children and grandchildren, you should care because it’s good business. Have issues with recruiting? Strong ESG practices can be a differentiator. Having issues retaining your best employees? Perhaps you haven’t engaged them in ESG initiatives as much as the next guy has. Getting pressure from large clients for your D&I (diversity and inclusion) data? I’m not surprised. And if you’re looking for financing and have a strong ESG story, you may find yourself with an edge.
What's the role of the board?
NYU’s Stern School houses a Center for Sustainable Business. Noting that,
"The list of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues that can pose financial risks to corporations exploded in 2020: climate change, water scarcity, pollution, #metoo, #blacklivesmatter, worker welfare, employee diversity, corruption, human rights abuses, supply chain scandals, and the global pandemic COVID-19. Yet while many investors and chief executives now take ESG seriously in their decision-making, one powerful constituency is lagging: corporate boards."
...their 2018 research revealed that less than 1/3rd of Fortune 100 board directors had relevant ESG credentials. Have you thought about who is on your board, and whether they have the background to address these challenges? Have you engaged your board in long-term sustainability planning?
What are we doing at iA?
Organizations in the consumer finance industry -- especially in the ARM arena -- are extremely diverse, but not so much at the leadership level. Without women, and especially women of color, in leadership and policy-making roles, it’s hard to demonstrate that we truly understand the needs of our employees, and the needs of the consumers we work with on a daily basis. I thought it appropriate for me to share our initiatives in this arena.
Certified Woman-Owned. First, insideARM LLC is a certified woman-owned business. We have terrific guys too, but we are majority owned and managed by women.
Getting Women to the Table. As you may know, four years ago we launched an event called Women in Consumer Finance. It’s not about consumer finance, but rather it’s a uniquely engaging professional development experience for high-potential women in the context of their industry. This year I set (and met) a goal to have 50% of our speakers be women of color so that all of our attendees have the chance to see people like themselves in a leadership position.
Race Equity. Last summer, like many others, we started to address the issue of race equity. We introduced the discussion through our membership group, the Consumer Relations Consortium. Since then we have included a meaningful discussion of the topic with new speakers and resources at each meeting. If you are looking for a roadmap for your organization, I encourage you to take a look at the Black Equity at Work certification program run by Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT.org). If you’d like to email me I'd be happy to connect you with the leader of the program.
Community Impact. Part of the race equity element of the social pillar is to know that those organizations you hire or donate to actually support Black and Brown communities. A few years ago we started a program as part of our Women in Consumer Finance event to support non-profit organizations that work with women of color. We now make significant donations to the Washington Area Women’s Foundation and For the Good.
- Washington Area Women’s Foundation helps build pathways out of poverty for women and their families. We help to create economic opportunities that have positive ripple effects across society. Since 1998, they have awarded nearly $13 million in grants to more than 170 community-based organizations in the Washington, D.C. region and helped women increase their assets and income by more than $53 million.
- For the Good targets areas where school enrollment is low and works with communities to sensitize parents to the importance of education, and to keep girls in school. Research shows that when girls transition to secondary school they benefit from significantly reduced fertility rates, higher incomes, and more decision-making power within their family and community. There has been great progress globally in primary school enrollment over the past twenty years, though there continue to be pockets of out-of-school children. Secondary school attendance is especially low in most regions of Kenya and sub-Saharan Africa.
Board Service. Finally, I have personally been searching for a way to give back through service on a board and was on the lookout for an organization that would be the right fit. A few months ago I was introduced to the executive director of LIFT, which helps low-income parents with young children to achieve economic mobility. From connections to healthcare and food assistance to one-on-one financial coaching and career development, these services improve financial stability – and equip parents to provide a better future for their children. I made an immediate connection both with the mission and the executive director and effective July 1st of this year, became a member of their Washington, DC board.
I'd love to hear about your sustainability initiatives. Email to let me know what you're doing.