Jayne shares the challenges facing the finance industry when it comes to Sustainability, ESG, and the ‘right’ way to communicate progress and achievements to your customers.
At a time when the principles of ESG are more important than ever, the finance industry walks a delicate tightrope. The desire to demonstrate positive steps towards more sustainable, ethical practises is, for many, counterbalanced by the risk of being seen to ‘overstate’ their achievements.
In this interview with Jayne Shawcross, Group Head of Marketing at Blackfinch Group, Jayne shares how the changing public perception of ‘ESG’ contrasts with the practical guidance at its core, the challenges marketers in the financial world face when it comes to celebrating progress, and the opportunities ahead for financial services leaders to drive more positive change with transparency and authenticity.
With over 23 years of marketing experience across various sectors from Financial Services to Renewable Energy and Mental Health, Jayne Shawcross is currently Group Head of Marketing at Blackfinch Group.
“I’ve worked in various organisations over the years, choosing brands where I felt I could really make a difference and where I felt a personal alignment to their proposition in some way.
Currently, I’m the Head of Marketing across Blackfinch Group, in what is an exciting and challenging role that involves delivering for a family of 5 brands that each have their own offering within the Financial Services space.
I have a team of six talented marketeers covering disciplines of Design & Brand, Digital, PR, Content and Internal comms.”
Alongside this, Jayne acts as the marketing lead on new projects and strategic initiatives such as product launches and business change, bringing in market insights and helping to shape new propositions.
Over the last few years, the financial services sector has seen a dramatic increase in ESG and sustainable investments. However, this has also led to increasing concerns of consumer confusion about the nature of some of these investments.
For many within the Financial Services space, the risk of reprimand for ‘incorrectly’ marketing certain initiatives is beginning to outweigh the benefits of sharing the positive steps being made.
“The use of labels such as responsible, sustainable, ESG and impact investing have become a challenge, as well as an opportunity to attract clients towards good outcomes.
The way that the public understand these labels, doesn’t always marry with the original intention for the label. For example, ESG which is a risk management strategy, is often mistakenly pigeonholed as ‘a green product’.
In addition, phrases such as ‘greenwashing’ are prevalent now. There are companies whose sole purpose is to publicly uncover greenwashing.”
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In recent years, the consequences of ‘greenwashing’ combined with the increased spotlight on sustainable practises have had a huge impact on all marketers in all industries, however marketing and communications leaders in the Financial Services world face a unique challenge.
As Jayne shares, “ESG – to the Finance sector – is a risk management framework. It allows firms to assess and manage potential risks on the environment, society, and decision-making processes.
However, the public perception of ESG is often confused by alternative labels that surround this space, such as impact investing, climate change, sustainability etc. These terms have been used by various brands with slightly different meanings and for retail consumers looking for a simple explanation, this can lead to mistakenly grouping it all into a meaning of ‘green’.”
“Worryingly, there also seems to be a shift towards a quite binary attitude of a brand (or product) being either ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Some audiences believe for a brand to make a sustainability claim they must be perfect in every sense or it’s ‘greenwashing’.”
“The challenge this creates for brands within Financial Services is a fear of being accused of ‘greenwashing’, or misinterpretation of how they are genuinely making a positive difference.
For marketers this can cause confusion and disengagement in the promotion of their business’ ESG activity. This is especially sad for those marketers who are motivated on a more altruistic, or personal level, in their choice of job. If you get excited by making a difference, but you’re fearful of sharing what you’re doing, it can be quite detrimental.”
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As Jayne shares, this disconnect has caused a few key issues to arise when it comes to promoting positive progress in any form.
“In many ways, it doesn’t do ESG justice. You only have to look at the many articles that lead with the headline ‘It’s not just the E in ESG’, making the point that alongside environmental risk management, we are also considering social impact.
For example, investing into property developers where their people have fair pay, safe working conditions and equal opportunities. Or investing into start-ups that increase accessibility to public transport for those who need additional assistance.”
“It’s also precluding retail investors from a potential opportunity that could be a perfect fit for their personal financial goals.
There is a perception that ‘green products won’t perform as well because they’re limited by what they can do.’ Therefore, by considering an ESG investment as ‘green’ and failing to fully understand the product, they could be missing out on great potential returns in well diversified assets.”
“There’s also the inevitable struggle of creating meaningful marketing that comes with the fear of being accused of greenwashing, which in turn takes some of the joy out of sharing the brilliant work that is being done by investment teams across the country.
We all recognise that the world around us needs to change for us to thrive, and that takes investment. Investing in leaders of change, within the industries that need help, is important.”
So, what’s the ‘right’ way to address these challenges?
As Jayne shares, “It’s not all doom and gloom. The way forward is to have an open and transparent conversation with your customer. I firmly believe that it’s part of our role to help them understand our products, and what that product does or doesn’t do.
At Blackfinch, we break down what are quite complex topics into easier to understand subjects and remove any confusion or doubt. We have a very open approach – we don’t shy away from questions and if that means we can learn how to improve our marketing then so be it.”
“I want the public to feel that responsible investing is accessible for them, in a safe and reliable way that won’t make them feel any regret later down the line. It’s their chance to help make a difference and as marketers we’re responsible for helping them be excited and motivated by that.
Sharing with customers some of the different ways that their investment has made a positive impact is an important part of that journey in them being engaged in how their capital is being used.”
Despite some of the larger challenges facing marketing leaders in the industry, Jayne believes there are a range of positive outcomes still being realised.
“Our job as marketeers in Financial Services is to enable our customers to have the utmost confidence in their choice of product and who they have entrusted with their capital. So, it’s only right that we should do that by being transparent, open, honest, and clear with them.
Regulation will be key to everyone feeling that confidence. It will bring clarity to what terms do (and don’t) mean, product categorisation will improve, and the outcome can only be positive for customers.
I hope we see people increasingly move their capital into investments that can have a positive impact and we all benefit from the changes which that can bring about."
“If you’re stepping up to a marketing leadership role in Financial Services, then know this – you have so many potential paths ahead of you. The skills you will learn will open doors to untold amounts of opportunity that I rarely see in other professions.”
Financial Services has so many moving parts and specialisms, you can get exposure to spectacular amounts of variety. Couple that with the sheer size of the industry and the amount of capital we are collectively responsible for, and you begin to realise the power it has.
If all of us chose to plough our energy, time and passion into brands that were making a positive impact, the difference we could make to the world around us is so huge it’s hard to contemplate.
Individually we can all act responsibly, recycling our carrier bags and using less energy etc – but when you accumulate the power of all the investments being made by all the Financial Services companies, you must step back and pause.
To me, that’s the most exciting thing about it – the potential.”
If you are wanting to kick-start your 'ESG' efforts and are looking for support, GO! can help put you in touch with the right people. Contact us here.