In the midst of wrenching political, social and technological disruptions across the world, corporate social responsibility is rising on the agenda for financial services (FS) companies and their human resources (HR) functions. We’re transitioning into what Fjord, in its 2018 Trends report, calls ‘The Ethics Economy.’ Organizations that are not paying attention could lose their good reputations along with substantial market share.

As Fjord notes, firms around the world are beginning to take a stronger stance on political and social issues, in response to customers’ and employees’ rising expectations. “No organization will be able to afford to sit back and claim to be neutral,” says Fjord, adding that corporate political action is emerging as a differentiator for customers in choosing between two otherwise comparable options.

In a world that still bears many of the scars of the 2008 financial crisis, FS companies are under pressure to demonstrate that they are a force for good. Customers and employees are looking to banks, insurers and capital markets to show that they share their values in areas that range from workers’ rights to financial oversight to environmental responsibility.

In exchange for the access and impact people allow companies to have in their lives, they expect partnerships, based not only on products, but also on goals and values. These expectations can be daunting, but some FS companies are turning social justice and responsibility into an enterprise strength.

AXA, for instance, has redefined its purpose as empowering people to live better lives and has set out a five-year sustainability plan called the 2020 Better Lives Partnership to deliver on its vision. Its aims include sourcing 100 percent of the electricity it uses from renewable energy by 2025, making insurance affordable for 45 million emerging-market consumers, and helping customers collectively become 50,000 years ‘younger’ through wellbeing programs.

In addition to appealing to customers, FS organizations that are proactive about ethics and politics will be better able to attract and retain top talent. Banks and insurers should look within and without to understand the values and desires of their employees and customers and look at how their decisions align with their values.

They must evaluate every decision for its human impact and drive the necessary empathy to find fair and human-centered solutions to their business challenges. FS organizations with a clear ethical purpose will be able to attract a workforce that is high in both integrity and performance—and that will give them an edge in the ethics economy.

My final post in this series of blogs will focus on how the need to design and scale fast challenges the FS workforce. The complete set of Fjord trends, in all their detail, can be downloaded here.

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