Alison Rose: Building a purpose-led bank



Alison Rose

In a speech delivered by today to Royal Bank of Scotland customers, colleagues and other stakeholders, Alison Rose, CEO of RBS discusses her plans to “build a purpose-led bank”.

Thank you so much for joining me today.

It is an absolute privilege to have taken on the role of Chief Executive at the bank I joined as a graduate 25 years ago.

These results are a reminder of the journey we have been on and the strong foundations we have built.

Through many years of determination and commitment, this bank has been radically reshaped; structurally, strategically and culturally.

We have now delivered our third consecutive year of profit, we have one of the strongest balance sheets in the industry, and we will have returned a further 2.7 billion pounds to our shareholders in 2019.

But the numbers I am most proud of are the ones that show the impact we can have on the lives of our customers. In 2019 alone, this bank supported 40,000 people to buy their first home and helped 65,000 new businesses get off the ground.

However, our performance doesn’t yet match the potential that exists in this bank. We can deliver so much more. We need to inject a new burst of energy into the bank and better support our customers at every point in their lives, especially in the key moments that matter to them.

Today marks the start of a new era for our bank.

We are changing our parent name to NatWest Group. We believe this is the right time to align our Group name with the brand under which the majority of our business is delivered; NatWest. There will be no change for our customers, who will continue to be served by the brands they are today: NatWest and Royal Bank of Scotland.

We are also announcing our new purpose - to champion potential, helping people, families and businesses to thrive.

This means recognising that the way people live their lives has changed. And their expectations of companies are changing too; looking for us to deliver not only financial performance but a positive contribution to society; benefitting customers and communities as well as shareholders. The future of this bank depends on us successfully delivering on both.

In line with these expectations, we are focusing on three areas where we believe we can make the biggest impact- these are: supporting enterprise, building financial confidence and taking a leading role in tackling climate change.

We will build a safe, simple and smart bank that operates with a clear purpose to strike a fair balance between customers, employees and shareholders. I am hugely excited about the opportunities that lie ahead of us.

Building a purpose-led bank

We should never underestimate the positive role we play each and every day for the people and communities we serve. Nor should we underestimate the responsibility that goes with this. By working with you and listening to you - our colleagues, our customers and our stakeholders – I believe that we will be able to deliver better outcomes in the long-term and share in each other’s successes.

That is why, today, we are setting out a new commitment to be a purpose-led organisation.

An organisation that will champion potential, helping people, families and businesses to thrive.

Now, I know a lot of businesses talk about having a purpose. I want to tell you what being purpose-led means for me personally, and what it will mean for the future of the bank.

Purpose is thinking about business in a much wider sense than before. It is about our role in - and connection to - society.
So, for me, purpose has to be the driving force in all we do. It is about making sure that in how I lead, I’m thinking about the wider positive impact that we can have on all our stakeholders when we are making decisions.
This simple expression will be the standard to which we will hold ourselves, and to which I expect you to hold us as well.

Building on strong foundations, it will sit at the core of all our decision making and we will aspire to live by it every day.

We are living in a period of unprecedented disruption. The coming years will bring sweeping changes to the way we live our lives and radically reshape our communities; whether it’s the struggle to get on the housing ladder or start a business, the exponential growth of new technology or the existential threat of climate change.

The nature of work is changing before our eyes, with up to 16% of UK adults expected to be self employed by 2025. Upskilling and reskilling will be critical to what we do in the future.

It is important we get ahead of these structural long-term shifts to ensure we stay relevant to our customers and position the bank for the future.

Our long-term success requires us to embrace these challenges and create longer-term, deeper relationships with our customers – for the good of our business, our customers and wider society.

Three initial areas of focus

In line with our purpose, we are going to focus on three core areas that I mentioned earlier where we believe we can make a strong contribution.

These are

  • Addressing the barriers to enterprise and business creation
  • Skill building, particularly around financial confidence; And
  • Climate change and supporting the necessary transition to a low carbon economy

Across these three areas, we have set out some significant ambitions which will deliver important benefits to our customers and the wider economy. And there will be more to come.

i. Removing barriers to enterprise

As many of you will already know, I am incredibly passionate about removing barriers to enterprise. Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy and, as the largest supporter of UK business, we already offer a wide range of support to those who want to start a new business.

Today, we service one in four UK businesses and this year provided almost £20bn of gross new lending to our commercial banking customers, with 19,000 entrepreneurs benefitting from our various programmes in recent years.

But as we all know, for many, getting started remains harder than it should be. One of the most striking conclusions to came out of the Rose Review that I chaired for the Government into female entrepreneurship was that £250 billion of new value could be added to the UK economy if women could get the same rate of support and access to financing as men.

This was brought home to me at a recent visit to Darjeeling Express – an incredible restaurant founded by NatWest customer Asma Khan, who is doubtless preparing for the lunchtime rush right now.

I heard from a number of female entrepreneurs – some of whom I can see here today - on the challenges and frustrations they have faced in getting their businesses off the ground.

Insights and conversations like these are invaluable as we work through how we can best achieve our shared ambitions.

At that meeting, I also announced a £1 billion fund to support female entrepreneurs in the UK to scale and grow – the largest intervention by a UK lender focused specifically on female-led businesses.

I also announced our new targets to support more aspiring entrepreneurs – helping to create an additional 50,000 new businesses across the UK by 2023 and supporting over half a million people to consider enterprise as a career option.

Much of this support will be focussed on the people and communities who have traditionally faced the highest barriers to entry; with at least 60% being female-led and at least 20% being Black, Asian, or Minority Ethnic-led businesses. More than 75% of the people we work with through this programme will be based outside of London and the South East.

This bank will back Britain’s entrepreneurs by removing the barriers to success. Investing in our entrepreneurs can not only have a dramatic impact on their future, but on the future of the UK and the Republic of Ireland as a whole.

ii. Improving financial confidence and becoming a learning organisation

We also have a responsibility to help our customers improve their financial confidence. Many people in the UK are struggling to manage their finances and to save for the future, with national figures indicating that 22% of UK adults have less than £100 in savings and investments.

Building good habits can help transform people’s relationships with money and with their bank. We are committed to helping our customers make the most of their money.

Our country-wide financial education programme, MoneySense has been running for 25 years; helping more than 7 million children across the communities we serve to understand the value and importance of finance.

I led a MoneySense lesson at a school in Edinburgh just last week focussing on financial fraud and was reminded once again of how important it is to engage young people to build their confidence and prepare them for financial situations – the good and the bad – that they may face in later life.

We need to have bigger and bolder ambitions in this space. As a bank, we are putting in place a target of reaching 2.5 million people each year, whether through our MoneySense programme and Financial Health Checks or through other interventions such as Friends Against Scams training.

Programmes like this are incredibly rewarding to be a part of as well as making a practical and real difference to peoples’ lives. I will continue to put time aside to get involved and will be encouraging all of my colleagues to make use of their paid volunteering days to do the same.

But I also want to build the confidence and capability of those who work here. We already have one of the most qualified workforces in the UK and today I am setting a target to have all front-line colleagues professionally qualified and accredited within 12 months of starting their role.

Having a skilled workforce is a pre-requisite. But I also want everyone who works at this bank to be energised by our purpose and to have the opportunity to invest in themselves.

By creating a true learning organisation, we can continue to learn and develop, ensuring we stay relevant to our customers and position the bank for the future.

iii. Helping find solutions to the climate challenge

Turning to climate change. This is the greatest challenge facing the planet and our way of life today. It is an issue of such critical importance that - as the largest supporter of UK business - we have a responsibility to play an active role in helping to find solutions; facing into this issue with the customers and communities that we serve.

We are already taking positive steps in the right direction. During the past decade, we were the biggest lender to the UK renewables sector. We also reduced our operational carbon footprint by more than 60% since 2014 and achieved our target of lending £10bn to renewables a year early.

This is good progress, but we can, and we will, do so much more.

Many of our customers today are already putting in place business plans to support Britain’s transition to a low economy. Others exist solely to help address the climate challenges we face. I recently visited Lightsource BP; a company that we have worked closely with as it has grown from a start-up to one of the world’s largest solar developers in just ten years.

I was joined on this visit by a number of climate industry experts who further reinforced the need for businesses such as ours to show clear leadership and responsibility in tackling climate change, and to help other businesses to successfully manage the transition to a low-carbon economy.

This all starts however with getting our own house in order. Today, I am setting a bold new ambition to be the leading bank in the UK and Ireland to help address the climate challenge; by
making our own operations climate positive by 2025; and
at least halving the climate impact of our financing activity by 2030;

We have also set a number of specific targets to help us achieve this ambition; for example, we are doubling our funding and financing support to sustainable energy to £20bn by 2022.

But, as I stand here today, I can’t tell you that I have all the answers. No-one does.

Clearly, climate change isn’t something any company can solve on its own. This isn’t a competition; we can only solve this and win together. We are determined to lead on the cooperation that will be so critical to influencing and financing the transition to a low carbon economy.

As we enter a decade of action to deliver the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, we have mapped our three focus areas to the Goals where we believe we can make the most positive contributions and we will be doing further work across our lending portfolio to target and support more of them.

We know this is not going to be straightforward. But taking a long-term view to this shared problem is absolutely the right thing to do.

One thing is clear. The future of this bank - and indeed of all businesses in the UK - is inextricably linked to finding these solutions together.

A purpose-led bank that is safe, simple and smart

Championing the potential of the people, families and businesses we serve and helping them to thrive is not an optional extra, or an add-on to our strategy. It is our strategy.

We won’t get everything right straight away. This is the start of a longer journey and we commit to moving the whole organisation forward in this way.

A purpose-led bank means a bank that is safe, simple and smart – supporting our customers with what they really need. It also means making some tough choices in order to deliver for our customers, our colleagues and our investors.

Safety and soundness will underpin everything we do. We will retain our strong balance sheet and prioritise keeping our customers’ data and money safe.

We are also still too complex. We will make this bank easier to deal with for both our customers and our colleagues.

And through a smart use of data and innovation, we will focus on creating deeper and longer-lasting relationships across society.

Collaborating to deliver shared success

Let me finish by reiterating that in the years to come, I want you to judge us not only on our financial performance, but also on our purpose. Because this bank needs to deliver both.

That is how we will make a real difference and a positive impact.

We have great examples of purpose in our bank and we can build on them - to champion the potential of people, families and businesses to help them thrive.

It feels a bold ambition – a vision to achieve our potential, create lasting value and deliver shared success.

That is our purpose and our strategy. It underpins everything we do. And it will define the future of our bank.

So I am calling on all of you here today to challenge us, engage with us and collaborate with us with us to help solve the issues that threaten to hold us back so that we can succeed together and make this bank relevant to our customers at every stage of their lives.

Tags: RBS



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