Interview Jeroen Jansen

Marketing Director of ASN Bank N.V.

Can you tell us something about your career?

In 1980 I started working at Triodos Bank, although I did not have the intention to start a career in banking, as I wanted to start with a study in Journalism. After some time, however, I felt more and more comfortable at Triodos Bank. Back then, Triodos Bank was innovative and its central statement was, and still is: you make your own choices of where to put your money in. This also applies to ASN Bank. You can choose for yourself what you will do and what you will not do. At Triodos Bank I experienced (and I still experience) that there is a quick win with regard to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). You do not have to change everything fundamentally, start with sending money into a direction that is in favour of your desirable goal. After I had worked for approximately ten years at Triodos Bank, I switched to Hollandse Koopmansbank. There, I founded a department of Ethical Research, where our aim was to map companies on the way that they deal with climate, CSR and such things. We built a system that makes clear what the environment is worth in money. One of our clients at Hollandse Koopmansbank was ASN Bank. ASN Bank was a sympathetic, but very small savings bank at that time. In 1993 we had the first worldwide investing equity fund that was publicly listed.  It was the first in its category, so there were many prejudices. Eventually, there was a good thought about what the criteria should be for companies. It has been fundamental to what we now call “sustainability and research” within the ASN Bank.

In 1997, the Hollandse Koopmansbankas founded after the merger of Reaal and SNS Bank, the current name is SNS Asset Management. Then I worked for SNS Asset Management, where I was responsible for marketing, was account manager for social institutions and steered the research department. Thereafter, I was advisor to the Board of Directors for one year in the year 2000. Then I was asked to work for the ASN Bank in the position of assistant manager and in 2005 I became statutory director together with Ewoud Goudswaard. This is my personal story about how I became employee of ASN Bank; I have worked there now already thirteen years but in fact already from 1995.

To what extent do sustainable investments contribute to a sustainable world?

That was exactly why ASN Bank set up a publicly listed fund. In addition to saving, there are many companies where you could buy obligations or stocks. Our aim was to found a fund where we could select companies not only based on their performance, management skills and financial forecasts, but also based on their social policy and ambitions . The ASN Equity Fund is an example of this. More funds of this kind have been founded by now, and choosing to invest in such a fund or depositing your money in the founding company shows that you find it important that investments contribute to a sustainable future. The ASN Equity Fund also invests in rather big companies like DSM, but with the Microloan Fund we invest in small, local entrepreneurs in developing countries. With the money they get from our fund they can improve their circumstances. The Small and Midcap fund invests in companies that are in between these two extremes. We follow these companies critically and give them advice on how they can undertake steps to become a sustainable company. We try to reach this goal of making companies sustainable by pursuing several different ways, which will eventually lead to a more sustainable world. If we do not have the belief or idea that it could help what we are doing, then we would not run this policy. And it does not matter to what extent sustainable investments contribute to a sustainable world; the most important thing is that it contributes anyway!

What are the criteria for sustainability?

Sustainability contains three pillars: climate, people and biodiversity. From this pillars, follow several sector specific policies and criteria to load this criteria. It is an extensive set and the trick is to make sure that the criteria are effective and enforceable. Eventually, customers are asking for your opinion and you should give a clear statement. Within sustainable investing it is important to be clear about your statement. Besides, we try to look at what activities will be done and which will not. The constant factor is that you always take profit potential into consideration. We also always look to social relevance of the product or service. ASN Bank excludes companies from the arms industry or companies that make use of child labour. We perform extensive research to be sure that these things do not occur with the help of our funds. When a customer deposits 100 Euros in a bank account with us, he will get 1.6% interest, but this is not earned in for example a leather company where children work. Most of the social institutions cannot guarantee this, contrary to ASN Bank. In my opinion is ASN Bank is a precursor in making their promises true.

ASN Bank has several durable investment funds, could you describe these shortly?

ASN Bank has seven different investment funds. All these funds stand for sustainability. The stocks and obligations in the ASN Sustainable Equity Fund, ASN Sustainable Mix fund and ASN Sustainable Obligation are thoroughly selected on the sustainability criteria. In addition, we have ASN Environment & Water Fund, which contains stocks from sustainable companies worldwide that are active in environment and water technology. ASN Sustainable Small & Midcap Fund contains stock from small and medium sized European companies selected on sustainability. Projects that include sustainable buildings, green energy and nature belong to the ASN Green Project Fund. Finally, we have the ASN-Novib Microcredit Fund, which includes microfinance institutions that provide small credits to people in developing countries.

Given your function as marketing director, in what aspects does ASN Bank differentiate itself from other banks in the area of marketing?

Marketing is, of course, more than advertising and setting up campaigns. At our bank you will never see that it only is about returns, but also about the story that is connected to the returns. It is for sure that you can open, for example, a savings account at our bank; I find it always a little bit weird that banks make advertisements based on what they supply. The bakery does also not advertise the fact that you can buy bread at his bakery. Our aim with regard to marketing is to make it broader than just introducing our products, saving, investing etcetera. In our advertisements you will always see what we find important, what our mission is. But due to the fact that not everyone knows ASN Bank we also have to tell the public that we are a bank and what the possibilities are for our clients. In addition, we are doing incredibly much other communication and also marketing communication whereby returns are excluded from the message. This communication goes about the climate or new initiatives that are possible via the ASN. We present our bank to the public with other stories than only our products. This really distinguishes us from other banks.

Is there a worldwide development of sustainable investing or is there also a detectable (downward?) trend in sustainable investing?

Nowadays, it is a well-known phenomenon. Not everyone is a proponent of sustainable investing, but it is becoming more popular. In my opinion, it is going rather slowly. The segment of sustainable investments is growing fast but the non-sustainable segment as much so. There will become a clash in the future, because it is not clear where it is going. ASN Bank is the biggest sustainable bank in the world. We are proud of this, as it makes the Netherlands with Triodos Bank and ASN Bank together really unique in the world, but it is sad that our small banks take(s) this position. But regarding institutional investors you will see that this development goes much faster in other countries, for example in the United States and England. The stimulation effect is in these markets very connected with the private market. In the United States you see that pension funds in certain branches are much more fanatic. They are very harsh. If a company sells weapons for example and the investors demands all their money back and accuse the bank publicly if you do not stop with this activity. This is not our culture, but in some areas it is for sure effective. The West European culture is that we will convince other people and that we will find a solution to all.  In the long term it will help if you do not accuse people but convince, stimulate and motivate them.

What are your personal ambitions within ASN Bank and for ASN Bank?

My ambition is to make people who are not interested in sustainable investing involved, by trying to speaking their language. We do not do this by telling them what is not possible, but by telling what is possible. We now have more than 600.000 satisfied customers and my ambition is to increase that number to one million satisfied customers. The main ambition of ASN Bank is that they want to aim that our ideals or things that are enclosed in our mission are of great importance. You should compare it with a peloton group in cycling: they only cycle with a high speed if one person starts making speed and takes the front position. We have the ambition to start and take the front position too. Not as far away that the others in the peloton cannot see you, because then they take their speed down. They should try to keep on track, but we should keep the front position. That is the ambition of ASN Bank. If we go to one million customers, we are going to one million. Our goal is not to become yet another big bank. The quantity of customers that you represent is maybe more important than the quantity of money on your balance.

Do you have some wise lessons for students from Tilburg University?

Do particularly things that you like. Never believe that something is not possible. At the time that professors or others say that something is true, you should immediately say that it is may be not true. You should always seek for other ways how it could be. For sure, in the financial services sector a lot is based on distrust, what results in thinking that doing nothing is the best option so that we cannot make any mistakes. Allow you to make mistakes and to come to different insights than before. This is not a weakness but a power. This is reflected in the research of the ASN Bank. New insights and knowledge will arise, because some people see that things may be different and say it out loud. Have an attitude, say how it can be and keep your ideals loyal and do not think too fast that something is age-related. Do what you like and try to think thereby that you have the same opinion over twenty years.