In June, Pakistan’s largest commercial bank, HBL, released its first-ever Impact & Sustainability report (2021), ‘Enriching Lives.’ A much needed impact analysis, which all major companies in the country’s private sector need to do if they are to play their part in helping the nation overcome its dire situation on climate change, along with its unabated population growth, which have made it seemingly difficult for the country to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. The report outlines HBL’s institutional interventions to serve the needs of communities, people, and the planet.
HBL, with a customer base of almost 30 million, plays a crucial role in the country’s financial eco-system, but also of consequence is the role it plays in the nation’s overall eco-system. The bank’s overall strategic thrust is based on a six-point agenda, which emphasizes giving back to the community as one of its key pillars.
Bank with a soul
HBL, which is a part of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED), understands keenly the value of maintaining a balance between what they do and what they share back with the community. For this very reason, its spending on social and developmental causes is the highest in the industry and in specific sectors of the country.
Understanding the significant challenges of health, education, and community development in Pakistan, HBL’s philanthropic funding strategy follows the ethos of “Enriching Lives.” The Bank currently allocates one percent of its profit after tax to the HBL Foundation, a non-profit Trust created in 2010 to promote the development and advancing the welfare and well-being of the people of Pakistan, with the object of improving their quality of life. From 2023, this allocation will increase to 1.5 percent of profit after tax.
The report highlights HBL’s work through a data-driven summary of their Impact and Sustainability performance, most importantly linking it with the SDG goals. Given this is the first report, they shared the progress to date on ongoing programs and activities. However, they promise that going forward; a yearly update will be given through the HBL Impact & Sustainability Report.
HBL was actively involved in crafting the SBP’s Green Banking Guidelines in 2017, which encourages environmental risk management within banks and promotes climate finance to reduce environmental vulnerabilities. In addition, the Bank integrated the Aga Khan Development Network’s (AKDN’s) own cross-cutting environment & climate committee guidelines into its environmental management systems.
HBL has also shown its commitment to sustainable development and encouraged Pakistan’s banking industry to adopt Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) practices in their strategic decision-making. All its internal businesses, investments, and operations are designed strategically to create a more sustainable, equitable, and financially inclusive world where the current population can meet its needs without depleting the resources of future generations.
HBL is a pioneer in the banking sector in Pakistan in developing and implementing a Social and Environmental Management Policy focusing on ensuring robust system risks in line with the International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) Performance Standards. As part of this policy, it has set out some key goals. They will try to achieve net-zero by eliminating all avoidable emissions by 2030. In 2020, the HBL decided not to finance any new coal projects or financing for coal of any kind. In 2021, the Bank stopped financing industries that contribute to deforestation. They are also actively working on reducing their carbon footprint and incorporating LEED/ IFC standards in most of their major office buildings. The iconic HBL Tower in Karachi is LEED-certified; the most widely used green building rating system globally.
In 2019, HBL also signed the Green Investment Principles (GIPs) with China and 27 other global institutions. It includes incorporating seven principles at three levels – strategy, operations, and innovation – for green investments in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). These principles are intended to promote environmental friendliness, climate resilience, social inclusiveness, and improved management of environmental and social risks for new investment projects in the BRI in light of the UN SDGs and the Paris Climate Agreement.
The ethos of ‘Enriching lives’ is being used to drive their KPIs at the macro level to report impact and sustainability at three levels: the environment, economy, and society. The report identifies programs and other initiatives it is working on within these three areas and across the SDGs – highlighted very neatly and effectively in an impact table. Out of their projects under the economy category – those under financial inclusion touch on eight SDGs; similarly, transforming agriculture touches on six goals. Under the environmental level, their projects in Green investment touch five SDGs, and renewable energy touches four SDGs. One of the key things that HBL’s Impact and Sustainability measurement and management does is that it enables the Bank to optimize programs and actively contribute to protecting the country’s resources.
Steps towards sustainable environment
HBL has set up a Social and Environmental Management System (SEMS) policy that ensures a robust system, which safeguards against credit, liability, and reputational risks in line with the IFC performance standards. This ESG policy is also used to benchmark customers against ESG’s strict criteria. It also made a major effort to align its own internal operations with the SBP’s 2017 green guidelines. It set up a Green Operations Unit in 2018 that has implemented multiple initiatives to reduce the impact of HBL’s operations on the environment while also reducing the cost of the Bank. The initiatives include automating systems, remote monitoring, and process re-engineering. The unit focused on conserving energy and reducing the carbon footprint of the Bank, reducing HBL’s paper consumption, and lessening the Bank’s reliance on fossil fuels/ grid electricity through implementing solar panels in over 170+ locations, among other things.
Building sustainable economy
HBL has quickly moved into the digital realm and has created a tagline for itself as a ‘technology company with a banking license’. Under building a sustainable economy, the report identifies the extensive areas that HBL is working on, including digitalization, financial inclusion, financial literacy programs, SMEs, Development Finance, microfinance, and low-cost housing. The HBL Impact & Sustainability Progress at a glance table highlights how the bank’s financial inclusion projects also touch on the most SDGs.
It understands that the financial inclusion of the population is critical to Pakistan’s economic development and the Bank’s progress. It is spearheading projects to deliver easily accessible, comprehensive banking solutions to all segments of society with a particular focus on solutions for women, the under banked, and the unbanked segments. HBL’s Impact report states, “For us, harnessing digitization for the benefit of society is a conscious decision toward our objective of fostering a technology driven financial ecosystem for the masses in Pakistan.” HBL uses technology to simplify financial transactions by digitizing money flow across individuals and institutions to exponentially increase customer acquisition. Additionally, HBL is supporting Farm-to-Fork ecosystem in the country which aims to make food value chains more equitable, healthier and greener.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, HBL worked with the government to ensure emergency cash distribution to over 14 million households under the Ehsaas Kafalat program. In addition, among other notable programs, the Bank has partnered with various provincial governments to enable transparent, efficient, and quick access to subsidies for farmers. This partnership is now evolving to help target digital subsidies at the time of input purchase by farmers.
Walking the talk of sustainable society
HBL, as one of the country’s oldest banks and as part of the Aga Khan Development Network, has a strong sense of belief in the role it can play in nation-building, providing thought leadership for the country and promoting diversity and cultural heritage of the nation. Its dedication to uplifting communities is also evident in its existing and the future increase it has announced in its philanthropic spending commitment to health, education, disaster response, and women empowerment.
HBL prides itself that its Social Governance and Management policies lay the groundwork for the Bank to develop a sustainable financial ecosystem that is people-centric and not just profit-driven. Its walking the talk starts at home with HBL’s commitment to employing 25 percent females in its workforce and creating an accessible work friendly environment in which they can prosper.
It has a diversity council that has 44 percent female representation and is cross-functional; it is mandated to drive HBL’s gender diversity strategy to steer the Bank’s vision. At the time of privatization in 2004, women were only 3 percent of employees; this has increased to more than 20 percent after focused recruitment efforts.
A crucial part of creating a sustainable society is HBL’s work with promoting art and culture in the country, including sponsoring children’s art competitions, holding monthly interactive sessions on art, and having its own art collection by new and contemporary artists throughout its offices. In 2021, HBL supported the restoration and renovation of the Galerie Sadequain at Frere Hall in Karachi, over 30,000 people visited the Ayesha Khalid’s exhibition, enabling it to become a permanent, international standard exhibition space at a public venue.
HBL Foundation – through which a large part of HBL’s philanthropic funding for social development takes place, plays a significant role in the belief in needing a sustainable society. It especially realizes that there is a dire need in the country in the fields of education and health to help improve the lives of communities. The Foundation was created as an irrevocable trust by HBL in 2010 and monitors and evaluates the grants that it provides annually to multiple organizations across Pakistan.
HBL is working towards long-term value creation for its shareholders and employees, where value is integrated into its sustainability strategy for communities. HBL Impact and Sustainability report highlights the importance and goals that HBL has and the strategy through which it intends to achieve these, and how we can evaluate its results on this front going forward.