Global Alliance for Banking on Values: Berlin Declaration and Annual Meeting

08.07.2013 Blog

The need for more sustainability and responsible conduct in the finance and banking sector has moved into the focus of attention only in the last few years – not just in the aftermath of the financial crisis, but also following the LIBOR and other scandals. For the banks united under the umbrella of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values (GABV), socially and ecologically responsible investing and overall focus on people has a substantially longer history. Most of these banks can look back at a tradition of several decades and they enjoy considerable growth and success and not only but particularly in the past few years, since the trouble has been brewing in the rest of the financial sector and beyond.

In March, the Alliance which is still growing – just recently it has signed up three new member institutions – gathered in Berlin for its fourth anniversary meeting, a one-week event with one day of conference open to an audience of business people, media, academia, and everybody else interested in ethical banking. The Berlin meeting this year was a landmark in the history of sustainable and ethical banking, with the GABV signing and issuing the Berlin Declaration 2013 which is calling the sector to perform a fundamental shift in how banks operate. The three key concepts to attain this are: Full transparency; proven sustainability; and increased diversity in the banking business.

For its open conference on March 14 within the fascinating architecture of the Axica Congress Plenum next to the Brandenburg Gate, the GABV attracted more than 300 attendants from all over the World and presented highly esteemed and thoughtful keynote speakers:
Norbert Lammert, president of the German parliament, opened the plenary meeting and greeted the audience expressing profound concern about the needs and the options for transforming the banking sector in a globally digitalised world to integrate ethical maxims into economic behaviour. With clear rhetoric combined with intellectual depth, he made the point that this endeavour is not only very much needed, but also extraordinarily hard to accomplish.

The same problem was accentuated by Tomáš Sedláček with a quite fascinating change in perspective: Renowned for his widely recognised work “The Economics of Good and Evil” (2011) and currently being chief economist of the Czechosloviak Commercial Bank (ČSOB), Sedláček emphasised the ubiquity of norms and values in economics and in business – preferences for some good, the decision against a certain service, and the widespread striving for money, all expressing nothing else than clearly visible values. Spanning the bridge from Aristotle over Jesus and early Christianity to Adam Smith and modern economics, Sedláček highlighted some landmarks in the history of economic thinking and revealed what a party night in the bar and today’s world of debt have in common. He concluded that nothing more and nothing less than a shift from economics to ‘humanomics’ is what is needed.

Wendy Luhabe, social entrepreneur and political activist from South Africa, made quite a similar point from her perspective as a practitioner at the forefront in the developing world: “It is time to remember that our financial and economic decisions have a serious impact on the lives of others.” She expressed that the banks having gathered at the Berlin summit were stellar examples of how conclusions from this insight are put into practice in the financial service industry.
Otto Scharmer, senior lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the founding chair of the Presencing Institute, supported this claim by presenting a conceptual framework enabling practitioners in business and politics to include sound ethical norms both into their day-to-day conduct and long-term strategy by systematically linking the present to the future while integrating ethical criteria.

The plenary session was followed by four parallel workshops chaired by GABV banks’ employees and supporting practitioners and academics. Participants jointly worked on four topics: The important role of bank customers; the need(s) for and of regulation; innovative financial products as a reaction to societal needs; and how the financial sector could be transformed on a macro level.

After workshop participants had presented their respective results in a nutshell to the plenary audience, the conference day concluded with a discussion of the German model of decentralised and co-operative banking making up for a large share of the banking sector in Germany. The discussion between Uwe Fröhlich (President of BVR, the Federal Association of German Cooperative Banks), Sven Giegold (member of the European Parliament), Georg Fahrenschon (President of DSGV, the Federal Association of German Savings Banks and Giro), and Thomas Jorberg (CEO of GLS Bank) made clear that this model needs to attract way more attention on the international level where large financial corporation receive the vast majority of spotlights still too often.