On the blog this week we are celebrating Pioneers of Responsible and Sustainable Investment and today we hear from Bevis Watts, the new Managing Director of Triodos Bank.
This week is Good Money Week, 30th October to 5th November 2016, a nationwide campaign, to grow awareness of sustainable, responsible and ethical finance.
This summer Triodos Bank announced Bevis Watts as their new Managing Director in the UK. It is the first time a UK bank has selected an environmentalist to a lead executive role. The appointment of Bevis is an essential development in the bank’s continuing strategy to refocus finance on using money to promote positive change in society.
The Financial Times recently interviewed Bevis, quoting him as saying; “Our mission is to finance things that benefit people’s quality of life and have human dignity at the core.” Greenhouse also had the chance to interview the new Triodos MD, as our next Greenhouse Pioneer.
Tell us about Triodos bank – what’s your mission?
Triodos Bank’s mission is to make money work for positive social, environmental and cultural change.
Triodos Bank uses the money people entrust to us to lend only to organisations that support the environment and society such as renewable energy, social housing and arts and culture projects.
What motivates you?
My motivation comes from a deeply rooted love and fascination for the natural environment. When I was a student in Sweden my father passed away and there I was, faced with this loss wondering what life is all about. It made me reflect on my environment and I became very aware of a much deeper relationship the Swedish have with their countryside, the time they spend in it and how considerate they are of it.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
I feel most proud of delivering positive change by using the power of money and sector expertise. At the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) I developed and managed a financial and business support scheme to grow the recycling market by raising £40m of private finance and building a start-up to 230 employees. However, I recently led the turn around of a mid-sized charity and feel hugely privileged to have played a role in the history of the Avon Wildlife Trust.
What are the challenges you face?
It’s an interesting time to be in banking. Following recession and the scrutiny of banks that followed, we are moving past the time when we are thinking ‘how do we stop the whole system collapsing again?’ and more towards ‘does this serve us, is the way the current system works socially useful?’ In my view it isn’t. Our banks are not serving the needs of society. They undermine our long term ability to sustain ourselves. It’s down to banks like Triodos and others in the Global Alliance of Banking on Values to lead the way and change the system and demonstrate a model for sustainable banking that uses the intermediary power of finance to benefit people and the planet. This needs a new kind of leadership and that’s what I hope to provide and bring.
What are you working on that’s getting you fired up and excited?
In mid-2017 Triodos Bank UK will launch a personal current account and this is a real opportunity for us to inspire more and more people to make a conscious choice about what their bank does with their money. I can’t say too much yet but in my view it will be coolest bank account you can have!
Where do you want to take Triodos Bank next?
Our measure of success is positive impact. We want to accelerate our impact. We want to change banking for good, continuing to find ways of financing new and emerging social and environmental projects. I want to lead Triodos and make it a real reference point and influence the debate about what other banks should be and how the financial system should change. I’ve got over 20 years’ experience working in the sustainability sector and understand that we need to properly cost environmental and social wellbeing into our financial system.
What can we, as individuals, do to make a difference?
I believe money can be one of the most powerful forms of democracy. Where you spend it, how you save it and what your bank does with it. My career has fueled a fascination about the role of money and its power to incentivise behaviour change. Profit doesn’t need to be at the expense of the world’s most pressing environmental problems. Sustainability is not just a novelty, an add-on. At Triodos it’s at the heart of what we do. Triodos Bank isn’t just a bank. We’re challenging the way banking is done. I’m leading a bank that wants to change the world for good. No one person can change the world, but together we can.
If you were prime minister for a day, what woul be the first thing you’d do?
I would develop a set of indicators to give us a much better sense of the health of society as a whole – we currently use GDP as our main indicator of the success of our society and this must change to properly understand a prosperous and healthy society.
What’s the coolest project or product you’ve come across that’s inspired you?
In the early part of my career I was very involved in finding new markets for recycled glass. Understanding all the possibilities it had and seeing new products and technologies we’d supported come to market inspires me still – the possibilities of what we can do are endless.
Can you recommend a life or game-changing book for our readers?
The Nature Principle by Richard Louv. One of a number of really good books which articulate the importance of the natural world and connection to it for our own wellbeing. We’re on the cusp of realizing that we need that connection and losing it is at the heart of many of our societal problems. I believe that soon we will start valuing nature differently and investing in it for our own survival.
What do you listen to when you’re cooking dinner?
Radio 5 live if there is any sport on – Andy Murray, football, you name it… Sport is a good switch off for me when I’m not in the great outdoors.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Don’t take yourself too seriously – people are most inspired by leaders who are themselves and give others space to use their talents and grow.
Can you leave us with who’d be your eco hero?
I have a lot, including David Attenborough. However, I like paradigm shifting business models, and Dale Vince’s Ecotricity has always been that for me – 100% of profits back into creating new renewable energy capacity and expanding awareness.
Greenhouse worked with Triodos Bank on the announcement of the new MD, gaining coverage in the national media such as the Financial Times and Forbes, regional press such as Bristol Post and South West Business, as well as trade articles in BusinessGreen, Pioneers Post and edie.net.