Ethics and sustainability: Financial services through the eyes of customers

  • 9 August 2021
  • Blog | Leadership & Strategy | Professionalism and Ethics | Blog

ESG [Environmental, Social and Governance] has been an increasing area of focus for financial services firms in recent years, but what really matters to customers? On the money: YouGov’s Global Banking & Finance Report 2021 attempts to uncover where the priorities lie for global consumers.  

Running a ‘good’ business, treating staff, customers and suppliers fairly and being sustainable are increasingly the expectations we have of modern-day businesses. But with the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, so called ‘fat cat’ culture around executive pay, issues of equality and diversity, and data breaches continuing to dog the industry, financial services firms have had to work hard to rebuild trust.  

Fairness and professionalism 

Professionalism and that sense of social conscience and responsibility are central to the ethos of the Chartered Banker Institute, so it’s encouraging to see that these are issues that still very much matter to the public at large. Surveying consumers in 17 global markets, YouGov’s report found that 47% believe that paying staff fairly should be a priority, with data privacy and protection coming a close second (for 40% of consumers).  

The need for financial services firms to pay their fair share of taxes was also a priority for 30% of global consumers. For consumers in Great Britain, however, this was cited as the most important consideration, with 48% stating that it should be a priority, perhaps reflecting the coverage given to the notion of tax collection in the popular press and HMRC moves to close loopholes in tax policy. 

While this sense of firms doing the right thing by society can also be seen in the prioritisation of workplace hygiene and safety for both staff and customers for 30% of global consumers, we can also be quite confident in attributing some of this concern to COVID-19 and its affect in heightening awareness.  

Sustainability – a varied reaction 

The report finds a variable reaction from consumers to the issue of sustainability and whether this should be a priority for managers of financial services organisations. In India and China, consumers show a strong belief in this, with 30% and 38% respectively naming it as a priority. In the US, meanwhile, only 15% of consumers see meeting sustainability goals as a priority, while in Great Britain, the figure stands at 24%.  

What we can perhaps read into this is that consumers are, for the most part, more focused on areas that financial organisations can directly impact or those that are intrinsically part of their operations – staff pay, workplace safety, data management, and taxation. However, if we dig a little deeper into the figures from the US and Great Britain, we see that the prioritisation of financial services organisations meeting sustainability goals is highest amongst the younger age groups – those aged between 18 and 34 years.  

Generational pressure 

It’s a finding, says the report, that aligns with overall attitudes to brands and consumer experience, with this younger age group showing, for example, a higher preference for brands that are sustainable or have a moral message, as well as a willingness to pay more for sustainable products and a willingness to walk away from brands that hold views they don’t agree with. 

That puts incredible pressure on brands to not only embrace sustainability alongside a broad ethical stance, but also to get the messaging and the means of delivering that message right. The report shows that both mainstream advertising and social media presence is important for these consumers and that authenticity and integrity is key.  

For both today’s and tomorrow’s consumers of financial services and products, there are high expectations when it comes to brands taking operational responsibility and behaving ethically both internally and externally.