Bowler hat. Three-piece pinstripe suit. A classic umbrella with a wooden curved handle.
It would be easy to think that the financial lending market still carries an air of old-school attitudes and thinking, based on its formal and traditional roots.
Arguably, the financial services sector has had the privilege of operating from a position of market power for UK PLC since time began. Yet, the waves of uncertainty led by the recent upheavals in the banking sector have reignited the debate on the evolving position of the whole financial services sector in modern times.
I believe that the evolution of the financial services sector is not a Darwinian concept that applies in a vacuum of capitalism. Rather, it is a natural evolution of those with the greatest influence finally recognising the benefits of being more inclusive, whether or not it fits their desired chain of progress.
Indeed, the very notion of inclusive capitalism may provoke thoughts and feelings of martyrdom for some and a sense of naturalisation for others. The reality is that the concept of inclusion within financial services has been passed around like a hot potato for many years, often baked and pulled out of the ovens of government policy on one side, social justice on the other.
But no matter what filling you like, inclusion tastes better when you have an understanding of the ingredients that connect us as human beings. More specifically, the financial services sector will need to increase its integration of inclusion with human capital models, to ensure competitiveness, sustainability, and social impact, through the power of the ‘S’ of ESG.
There are three key elements that I believe are driving inclusive change within ESG for the sector, without the need to sacrifice either profit or social impact:
As an entrepreneur and businessman, regulation is not something that you ever want to embrace, unless you really have to. Often, regulation can stifle the very innovation you need to create change.
But regulation can increase the opportunity for firms, who are seriously committed to inclusive and sustainable change, to rise above the growing heap of greenwashing and be able to evidence how they are adding value to their people, stakeholders and society, in a more measurable way.
The correct implementation and use of technology can help firms to drive cost efficiencies, reduce financial and operational risks and increase innovation. These benefits increase with the effective use of data to inform and benchmark decision-making.
However, the fusion of data and technology must also be protected against the possibility of unconscious bias, which can seep its way into the development of data aggregation and intelligence extraction processes.
This is based on the type of data sources that are being used, and the type of technologies being used to extract actionable intelligence from that data – there is no point attempting to be more inclusive if you are simply replicating human bias into the technological process.
As someone who may not fit the traditional mould of a leader within financial services, due to my own social background and academic experiences, this is an area that is close to my heart.
Let’s be honest – for many years, City firms did not take social mobility seriously. Mainly because they did not feel they had to, or it was not enough of a problem to make a sustainable effort to change the status quo.
The need to boost UK productivity and levelling-up opportunities was a major catalyst for the need to tackle these issues. The interventions of the two-year independent task force, with the positive creation of the Progress Together network among many other local and regional initiatives, has helped to create change.
But I do also feel that social mobility requires a boost – whilst great work has been done, the ‘S’ of ESG, is still seen as a secondary priority behind the current focus on Environmental (climate change) across the sector. This is not to discount the importance of climate change, as this is crucial to the future survival of humankind.
But for financial services firms to harness the transformative power of social mobility today, they need to fully embrace and represent differences in social class and academic achievement within the boardroom right through to the front line.
We already know that active inclusion is required as acutely highlighted in the FCA Diversity & Inclusion 2021 discussion paper. But I fear that many organisations do not feel confident in their own ability to turn inclusion from a purposeful notion to an actionable and sustainable activity that they can evidence on their bottom line.
Yes, the stone-cold reality for the majority of key decision-makers within firms is that despite all the positive evidence available, they need to feel confident that inclusion can make money before it makes sense to invest in it as a strategic driver for success.
But it is the rich mix of skills and life experiences, resilience, challenging of the norm, and neuro-diverse thinking that social mobility offers, in parity with other strategies, that once integrated into the very heart of governance and accountability practices can truly transform organisations and the lives of those who work within them.
I am proud to be here to help firms embrace inclusive change from transforming the ways in which they widen access to finance, to helping them develop and implement inclusive growth strategies for their organisation.
In the words of Sam Cooke, one could say ‘it is a long time coming, but a change is gonna come’.
Personally, I think the change is already here.