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Bank On This Future-Shaping Force!

Maximus
5 minutes Reading Time

“I really believe there’s a neat convergence between doing well as a business and doing good for the wider environment in which we operate”

– Clive van Horen, CEO of Suncorp Bank

 

“There’s a great alignment of growth opportunity with doing good,” says Clive van Horen, CEO of Suncorp Bank. One of the first executives among Australia’s banks to develop a meaningful initiative to connect with customers and community, Van Horen is driving change. His purpose is to connect the concerns, aspirations and needs of customers and staff with the greatest future-shaping force of our time – sustainability.

 

There is no tension between pursuing growth for shareholders and driving sustainability for the bank and its ecosystem, says Van Horen. “Customers and investors are expecting and demanding that organisations do more than chase profits”, he elaborates, “I really believe that there’s a neat convergence between doing well as a business and doing good for the wider environment in which we operate.”

 

Under his 14 months of stewardship so far, the bank has spoken with and surveyed staff and customers about their thoughts, issues, hopes and aspirations for the bank. One outcome is that Suncorp Bank has built on the Suncorp Group’s enduring reputation on the insurance side of supporting customers in “moments that matter”, to unite behind the ambition, “To create a brighter future”.

 

Included in that all-encompassing ambition is a commitment to support customer wellbeing. “Not just financial wellbeing,” says Van Horen, but the prevailing sense in these COVID-19-constrained times that reordering our priorities in life is happening at scale across society. The second pillar of creating a brighter future is to champion sustainability. “There’s a lot we can do as a bank,” says Van Horen, such as buying electricity from renewable sources, committing to net zero carbon emissions and influencing the sustainability of partners along our supply chain. And, he says, “We want to help customers do what they can to drive sustainability.” An example of Suncorp helping is by providing “green” home loans that incentivise homeowners to install rooftop solar, thereby reducing their carbon emissions. This creates a win for the customers’ own worlds, and the world.

 

 

TEMPERED FOR GROWTH

 

This transformative moment for the bank brings the breadth of Van Horen’s leadership experience to bear. His approach to the privileges and challenges of leadership has been forged by early public policy roles, seeking to redress inequality in post-Apartheid South Africa; by research that led to a PhD in environmental economics; by some two decades, both in Australia and overseas, learning the ropes and then leading in the rapidly changing banking sector; and by representing CBA during the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry.

 

If discussing energy policy with Nelson Mandela – under whose leadership the two-thirds of South Africa’s homes that had been without electricity were connected to the grid – taught Van Horen humility and the power of possibility, taking part in the Royal Commission, he says, sharpened his ability to keep things in perspective.

 

As CBA’s Executive General Manager of Retail Products for much of the period of the Royal Commission, Van Horen took responsibility for a range of testimony on behalf of the bank. He says, not only did he learn the lessons of how to constantly consider what can go wrong in a bank’s operations and the devastating effects this can have on customers, but how to use those lessons to positive effect, rather than succumbing to a culture of fearfulness, excessive policing of employees and over-compliance.

 “To focus exclusively on the possible downsides is not going to get the best outcome for customers, the community or the organisation. Although we never want to make errors that have negative impacts, at Suncorp our biggest risk is that we don’t transform and grow.”

– Clive van Horen

BEYOND FEAR LIES TRANSFORMATION

 

“To focus exclusively on the possible downsides is not going to get the best outcome for customers, the community or the organisation,” he says. “Although we never want to make errors that have negative impacts, at Suncorp our biggest risk is that we don’t transform and grow.”

 

A culture united behind a common purpose, to do well and do good, for example, is more effective insurance against poor decisions and opportunism than what Van Horen calls a “a belts and braces approach to make sure we never make another error again”.

 

It is incidental says Van Horen that Suncorp Bank’s refreshed ambition, to create a brighter future, resonates with his own experiences and motivation; far more exciting and important, he says, is that it resonates with Suncorp’s people, “They are absolutely embracing the profit with purpose opportunity”.

 

He says it starts with the conviction, deeply embedded in a company culture, that individual and community wellbeing matter, and achieving sustainability matters. Then, he says, we can try to meet those needs – “And how much bigger is it when you have thousands of people doing something about it, as opposed to a few leaders?”

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  • Clive Van Horen
  • Growth Leadership
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