The changing role of banks in society
Wednesday 20 October 2021
Laura Penna, Head of Group Social Impact Banking, shares her views after UniCredit is named Best Social Impact Bank in Europe by CFI magazine for the second time. A testament to the Bank’s commitment in being part of the solution in these challenging times and in the recovery phase.
Firstly, congratulations Laura on UniCredit winning the title of Best Social Impact Bank in Europe by CFI magazine also in 2021!
Thank you very much! We are extremely pleased that our continued efforts across our markets to support and stay close to our communities, particularly during the current delicate recovery phase triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, have once again been acknowledged.
Absolutely. What kind of effect do you think the pandemic has had on the social impact banking sector?
Nowadays there is certainly greater attention to social issues. We’re seeing far more awareness, not only from governments and the EU, but also within businesses and the financial sector. Companies want to be part of the solution and offer new products and services to support social needs.
This is a tangible change and will be further empowered by the Recovery Fund, which will provide the social impact sector with a completely different scale of funding than in the past. It is particularly important also considering the ongoing green transition that must be managed in a holistic way.
Who needs social impact banking? Who are the customers that you support with this offer?
Our aim is to improve accessibility to finance and related services for vulnerable groups, including women, the young, the elderly, as well as weaker enterprises such as start-ups, NGOs, and micro-businesses.
We combine lending with additional support through financial skills and awareness. As an example, given the pandemic’s negative impact particularly on the livelihood of women, at the end of 2020 UniCredit launched a dedicated offer in Italy aimed specifically at supporting female entrepreneurs and companies with a focus on serving women and families.
We also help companies become more ESG focused. We support their transition and mobilise capital towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals. All projects and initiatives we support must have a concrete and measurable social mission with a wider group of indirect beneficiaries.
Do beneficiaries’ needs differ by market?
Absolutely. We must always tailor our offer to fit each country’s specific social challenges. More generally, the pandemic has accelerated the need to finetune and re-assess social and health systems in Europe. In some countries we see the society change from a welfare state to community welfare and this is also changing the role of banks.
We need to better understand the social priorities in each of our communities and provide the right kind of support to make a concrete positive contribution, both in the short and long term.
Lastly, what is next for social impact banking?
We have seen the social impact sector grow, given the evolution around social taxonomy and shared standards at EU level that will significantly help the financial system to increasingly support societal challenges and avoid ‘impact washing’. That said, capital flows towards social causes will also likely increase and as a result, the offer of sustainable and inclusive finance in Europe will grow with constantly more attention to human rights, starting with the employee, and stretching across the whole supply chain to the end client.
Thank you, Laura, and congratulations once again!