On a sunny Saturday afternoon in Bristol, where would you find an energy management charity, social housing company whose customers have learning disabilities, Boris’ ‘food tzar’ and a charity campaigning for ethical pension investment complimenting the work of a UK bank?
By Caroline Macdonald
At the annual meeting of Triodos bank. They are all customers, apparently.
Having missed the morning’s event (I am a working mum) which focused on the business end of Triodos, I settled down, in the audience of easily over 200 folk, to the afternoon’s entertainment of what turned out to be an extraordinary annual meeting. Extraordinary in the sense that it was like no other bank meeting I have witnessed – how did they do this?
1. By putting not-your-average customer up on stage to take centre place and not hogging the limelight in an effusion of self congratulations.
2. Through demonstrating that they (Triodos) are not too grand or corporate for the average Joe due to the electic mix in the audience.
3. By cleverly marketing the whole event as #changemakers and then demonstrating how they and their customers are changing the status quo.
4. In allowing a reasonable number of questions and therefore participation from the floor (attendance of which seemed to be an open door policy).
5. In showing that banking can be ethical and benefit the environment whilst making money – ka-ching!
Clearly change can, and is, happening in the dark, hidden caverns of financial lending and investment albeit piecemeal and on a small scale. But as individuals and organisations arrive at the fact that they can be more in control over how their finances are managed and the impact of monetary actions, this in itself will surely change. Naturally, investor and customer insecurities persist which provides the axis to challenge Triodos on its performance and maintain its bid for transparency. A second challenge for the bank is to lower the average age of its individual investors and appeal to those thirty and forty somethings who wish to make a difference but perhaps without the same level of wealth of our silver surfer generation.
At the same time, barriers to entry, information and action need to be continually broken down if more people are to move away from conglomerate banking and predatory investing. This can be effectively achieved through consistent application of good engagement (relationship building etc.) and great communication that is not PR spin but backed up by evidence and performance. This is not hard to achieve but nor is it delivered overnight but requires a well thought out and flexible plan of action over the next 5-10 years.
The Triodos annual meeting was a #changemaker event itself. Several tweets displayed on the Twitter wall were from individuals ready to sign up. Several more businesses will be interested in working with Triodos resulting in a net gain for a bank willing to do a Saturday shift.