Since 2015, bankers in the Netherlands are required to pledge an oath promising adherence to the Dutch Banking Code: a codified, legally binding set of principles and rules that pertain to ethical behaviour. The code also includes a ‘Social Charter’ that emphasizes the bank’s social responsibility and the role it plays in contributing to sustainable economies and healthy communities.
As a result of these kinds of government initiatives and other drivers, Dutch financial service providers have been increasingly offering consumers products that align with broader social and environmental objectives. These products have come to be known as the cornerstones of sustainable and social finance — financial services and instruments that generate financial returns while simultaneously producing positive social and/or environmental impact.
Below is a brief overview of social and sustainable finance service providers in the Netherlands and the products they offer.
Impact investing – Robeco
Robeco is an international asset management firm that pioneered sustainable and emerging market investments. Originally named the Rotterdamsch Beleggings Consortium, the firm commits itself to sustainability investing via two means: first, through active promotion of the benefits of sustainability investing to its clients; second, through increasing assets that incorporate ‘environmental, social and governance’ (ESG) criteria. As of 2016, Robeco has retained, for the third year running, the highest possible score (A+) for sustainability investing accorded by the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investing (UNPRI).
Banking – NewB
A co-operative bank, NewB works on the foundation of a new ethic, transparent and participative bank that will be a real support for a sustainable and local economy. Founded in 2013, the bank has more than 50,000 ‘co-operators,’ 149 social organizations and 3 institutional investors. Each of the aforementioned stakeholders own bank shares but each member is only allowed one vote. The foundation of the bank is predicated upon 13 core values, namely social embedding, simplicit, security, sustainability, transparency, innovation, participation, honesty, inclusion, sobriety, diversity, proximity and professionalism. Its key product, the NewB card, is a biodegradable prepaid MasterCard that donates 5 cents per successful transaction to your charity of choice.
Health insurance – Zorgeloos
Zorgeloos is an alternative health insurance that is also based in on a co-operative format. Although it has not been launched yet, the insurance scheme will be leveraging on its co-operative structure to do away with claims bureaucracy, minimum numbers of insured persons and costly premiums.
Banking – SNS Bank
Now part of de Volksbank, SNS Bank positions itself as a ‘social and sustainable’ bank that offers tailored solutions in mortgage and asset accumulation for individuals and SMEs. The bank also uses a carbon profit and loss account methodology that measures the carbon output of their loan portfolio against the total amount of investments made towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions. SNS Bank aims to make all of it bank operations and investment carbon neutral by 2030.
Financial service provider – The AFS Group
The AFS group is an established European broker and its subsidiary, AFS Energy deals extensively with the financial management of renewable energy and sustainability projects. Its services include direct access to wholesale markets for buying & selling renewable energy certificates, structuring Guarantee of Origin agreements, refinancing renewable projects such as wind turbines, biogas installations and battery storage projects, renewable energy market consulting and portfolio management services.
Different ways to make an impact
In short, financial service providers can incorporate elements of social responsibility and sustainability into their products in many ways.
Companies like NewB and Zoorgeloos do so by engaging and creating reciprocal accountability with their customers, by offering ownership through shares. On the other hand, Robeco, SNS and AFS achieve their social and sustainability objectives by innovating on their internal processes and services.
Financial services and project with sustainable and social aims can also be predominantly community-led, as we will explain in a following article.