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Argenta opts for value-driven sustainability

As a company, how far should you go with your sustainability policy and how do you prevent it from lapsing into greenwashing? Stéphanie Dangreau, Sustainability Manager at Argenta, explains why the bank-insurer has linked its sustainability ambitions to its corporate purpose and how this is leading to highly concrete actions.


First and foremost, what exactly does Argenta mean by sustainability? Because it is a very broad concept.

"Originally, we had based our sustainability policy on the three classic 'ESG' pillars: Environment, Society and Governance. But that did not feel concrete and recognisable enough to sufficiently address and engage our employees and branch offices. So, together with our stakeholders, at a certain point, we sharpened our sustainability focus based on the distinctive character and purpose of our organisation. Look, in a production company it's quite clear where in the chain you can work more sustainably. At a bank, this seems at first sight more difficult, it's less tangible. But when you start to see money, in the form of savings and insurance premiums, as your product, it suddenly becomes a very powerful lever in major social themes. Every euro from every customer can be used for something good or something bad. As a bank-insurer, you can make that choice very consciously. And Argenta wants to take up its responsibility, without compromise. We are proud that we can contribute to the sustainable transition with our specific business and in our very own way."

What are the broad outlines of Argenta's sustainability ambitions?

"Our sustainability policy is based on what has traditionally been our motivation. Our objectives in this area are closely related to our basic philosophy and core values: local, enterprising, pragmatic and simple. There are three major challenges in which we, as a bank-insurer, want to take on an unwavering responsibility towards our customers, employees and society in this volatile world. Our actions focus on: 1. tackling the impact of climate change; 2. eliminating financial and digital illiteracy in favour of greater social justice and equality; and 3. protecting and empowering customers against security risks, such as cybercrime and fraud."

Why do you think sustainable entrepreneurship is important?

"Our stakeholders simply leave us with no other choice. As an organisation with a family and a cooperative shareholder, Argenta made a number of sustainable choices in the past, without it being a conscious choice. Just think of our transparent no-nonsense culture, the importance we continue to attach, in the midst of all the digitisation, to local accessibility and personal contact, or the space we create for entrepreneurship. In this area, a strong cultural fit has emerged with our employees and customers. And our customers are usually more sustainable than average, by the way. So not building on the sustainable character that has been in our DNA would be completely illogical and cause employees and customers to drop out."

What concrete actions are you taking to limit the effects of climate change?

"Banking and insurance should not come at the cost of trees. Under that motto, we do everything we can to reduce our own ecological footprint. We aim to be completely CO2 neutral by 2030 through a sustainable renovation of our head office, waste and paper reduction, local recruitment and the promotion of sustainable mobility. We have already achieved our interim target for 2023. And although the corona crisis surely had something to do with that, we now want to maintain that lead.
In addition, as a bank, our products provide us with an even more powerful lever for a climate-neutral society. With our own investment portfolio and our investment funds, we have reduced our positions in environmentally polluting sectors and consciously opted for sectors in sustainable transition. At the same time, we create positive impact by investing in sectors that are concerned with circularity, biodiversity, and the like. At many banks you can indicate that you want to see your money invested in sustainable alternatives. By 2023, that will simply become the norm at Argenta. All our funds will be sustainable. 
We can stimulate sustainable living through attractive financing conditions for homes with energy level A or B. Although we do not want to lose sight of the social dimension here. Investing in insulation and solar panels is not for everyone… A lot of people are happy if they can just install a new kitchen. We are looking at how we can guide them towards a more sustainable housing solution, because we are convinced that everyone has the right to sustainable living.
Finally, with regard to our insurance policies, we are toying with the idea of applying a health check on our policies: how great are the flood and drought risks and are our customers sufficiently insured for this? For new policies, these risks will be monitored more closely and we want to give our customers good advice on how to protect themselves against such hazards."

You are also taking action against social inequality and cyber security risks. How do you do that exactly?

"Argenta has traditionally been a bank for 'the average Joe'. That is why our products are simple and our communication transparent. We believe that those who are less financially and digitally savvy should enjoy the same financial health as a highly educated person. That is why we focus on prevention, protection and financial and digital literacy. We also want to make our own employees resilient for the future by teaching them the skills of tomorrow.
One of the concrete initiatives in this is our Online Security Assistance, an insurance policy from AXA Partners linked to our bank accounts. It protects our customers in the context of online purchases and cybercrime."

To what extent are your stakeholders involved in your sustainability policy?

"Precisely because our sustainability objectives are so closely related to the distinctive character of our organisation, they are highly tangible for our stakeholders. For example, we regularly exchange ideas about it with a number of agents-ambassadors. We also regularly organise stakeholder surveys to keep an eye on which sustainable themes are priorities. If our stakeholders clearly give a different signal than what we have determined in our action plan, we will re-evaluate and adjust."

How do you ensure that your sustainability ambitions do not simply turn into greenwashing?

"We are indeed very alert to that. In my opinion, a good sustainability policy has three levels and being compliant is basically the Olympic minimum, as far as I'm concerned. Because companies are obliged to report on the impact of a number of sustainable variables, greenwashing is almost impossible even at this lowest level. The second level, I think, is that you remain credible. To do this, you have to take a critical look at your organisation and fine-tune it as best you can. If you don't, you'll be seen through very quickly. As a company you have to be humble in this area – realise that you are constantly learning and adjusting in a continuous process. We like to approach it pragmatically, with common sense. Instead of excluding companies in transition from financing, like some financial institutions do, we opt for a policy in which we make our voice heard and help to make our mark through investments and share ownership. So that they effectively realise the transition. Are we perfect at that? Certainly not, but we act to the best of our ability and with an open mind. Finally, the ultimate sustainability policy for me is one that differentiates your organisation. Then your policy becomes the reason people choose you. Just like everyone else, we can say that we are sustainable. But our ambition is to gradually let the word 'sustainability' fade into the background in our discourse and to replace it with authentic stories from customers, employees and agents about areas in which Argenta really makes a difference. That sustainable touch that has always been part of our DNA and will also form the core of our corporate purpose in the future."

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