Many large banks cater more to their large, wealthy customers than to small businesses and low-income or underserved communities. In the United States, Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) have helped fill some of these service gaps by providing financial services to these communities. O-Bank in Taiwan takes a similar approach.

O-Bank is one of nearly 40 banks in Taiwan, with additional operations in California and China, and is also one of Taiwan’s 29 B-certified companies. Tina Lo, Chairman of the Board of O-Bank, says the bank is trying to differentiate itself from its competitors by taking a long-term approach to growth and providing innovative financial services to underserved communities in Taiwan, including poor communities. and young people.

“If we want to exist, we have to create our own value,” she said. “We want to have a positive influence on society; otherwise, it makes no sense to us. So we were like, “How can we make a difference? As a bank, we recognize that with great power comes great responsibility. “

I spoke with Lo like part of my research on purpose companies. She discussed the innovative financial products offered by the bank to help underserved communities and also shared with me information about the social enterprise ecosystem in Taiwan.

Christopher Marquis: Please tell me about some of the innovative services you offer to help underserved communities, support sustainability, and solve social issues.

Tina Lo: Our focus on inclusive finance is built into our core business. For example, we were the first bank in Taiwan to introduce robo-advisory services for wealth management, a service often reserved for the richest people. Young people and the relatively less wealthy are the real people who really need wealth management services, but they often cannot get the proper services from banks. We don’t think it’s justified or what a bank should do, so we introduced this robo-advisor to enable our consumers to access online wealth management. They only need to have around US $ 35 in assets (1000 New Taiwan Dollars). So what we tell people through our robo-advisor services is that you don’t need to be limited by your time, your place or even your wealth; you have the right to all the financial services you need.

We are also the first bank to introduce impact projects in Taiwan for our clients. If you want to make a difference, if you want to allocate your funds to a certain purpose, you can put them in a Social impact deposit account and this money will only go to economically disadvantaged groups through microcredits. This way, you have more confidence that your deposits can make a difference in helping other people. For these economically disadvantaged people, it is even more difficult for them to obtain financing, but they are the ones who need it the most. We are trying to create a win-win situation, not only for the beneficiary of the loan, but also for the depositor and the bank.

The people who benefit from these impact projects don’t need a lot of money, relatively speaking. If we can just get them a small amount of money with a low interest rate at the right time, it could change their lives and break the cycle of poverty.

We have also an affinity card program. We are affiliated with educational institutions and non-profit organizations, and we are trying to create this platform for people to use an affinity card to support certain social issues, educational institutions or non-profit organizations. No matter how much I spend, 0.2% of the cash back will go directly to one of these organizations. About 10% of our financial clients were actually affinity cardholders.

Another project that we started two years ago is the Green Consumption Power @ O-Bank project. This is in fact one of the first projects we have undertaken to encourage conscious consumption and encourage conscious consumers to buy products that are good for the environment and for society. So we’ve partnered up with about 29 B Corps and social enterprises, and customers can use our debit card to buy them products. We are giving away 4.22% in cash to consumers to represent Earth Day, April 22. This is a very high percentage, as you can see. We want to create a little extra incentive, so that consumers can recognize and then support these products. But also, there is a limit to cash back, because we don’t want to encourage overconsumption. We try to incorporate sustainable ideas into our products and services in our relationship with consumers and society.

Marquis: What does the social enterprise ecosystem look like in Taiwan?

Here : Even though we do not have a clear definition of social enterprises in Taiwan because we do not have laws on public utility like in many American states, I believe that social enterprises are developing in a healthy way in Taiwan. Over the years, there have been more and more companies and industries involved in socially responsible business. And at O-Bank, we’ve also created our own ecosystem that people support.

On the customer side too, Taiwanese consumers are increasingly sensitive to the products they buy. They won’t just choose the cheapest product. They will turn to the back and look at the label to see: where was it made, is it a healthy manufacturing process, what kinds of materials does the product contain?

More young people are ready to join these social enterprises. If we continue to have more young talents willing to participate in this movement, then I think the social enterprises and purpose enterprises in Taiwan are in a healthy situation. Even though Taiwan is not that big, I was a little surprised to find out that we have the highest number of B Corps in Asia.

Since we are already a B Corp, we try to share our experience with companies that also want to apply for certification. As we heard from B Lab Taiwan, some other companies in Taiwan don’t have the resources or the scale to do the research or they don’t know how to apply or they can’t even read English well. Thus, our colleagues responsible for B Corp certification joined the workshops of B Lab Taiwan to present the structure and process for applying for B Impact Assessment (BIA) to these companies in order to help them apply correctly for certification. B Corp. In addition, we offer preferential services at B Corps. Most B Corps in Taiwan are medium in size and it is difficult for companies of this size to obtain funding. We offer preferential rates – savings rates and borrowing rates – and we also offer preferential accounts to their employees.

Marquis: You are a publicly traded company and have been listed on the Taiwan Stock Exchange since 2017. How do O-Bank shareholders perceive the purpose of the company and its status as a B Corp?

Here : In 2017, we went from an industrial bank, which we had been since our creation in 1999, to a commercial bank. There are nearly 40 banks in Taiwan. If we offer the same things these other banks have to all of our customers, they don’t need us. If we want to exist, we have to create our own value. We want to have a positive influence on society; otherwise, it makes no sense to us. So we were like, “How can we make a difference? As a bank, we recognize that with great power comes great responsibility. Even though this phrase was popularized by Spider-Man, the quote has origins dating back 2,000 years.

As a bank, we receive massive resources and public trust. People give us their money, trust us, so how can we return the favor? How can society trust us if we don’t have a long term goal that they feel comfortable with? Why bother to make the effort? This is why we believe that we should use our influence to have an impact on society in one way or another.

Regarding investors, we had to convince some of them that with this mission, we are betting on the long term, we are not just looking for short-term profits, it is not a responsible way of running a bank. We want to be sustainable. If we don’t focus on this now, we won’t be able to survive in the long term. So would you like us to be an ephemeral bank but with good financial figures now, or would you prefer to see a sustainable bank and develop in a very healthy and ethical way?

It takes time to convince certain types of investors, but I’m very happy that most of our investors believe what we believe and then they support us through the process.

But I also have to say that unfortunately at this point it hasn’t really resulted in a significant change in our assessment. One of the reasons, I think, is that we recently moved from an industrial bank to a commercial bank, so we made a lot of initial investments. For now, on the retail banking side, we are still at the investment stage. But we believe we are on the right track, and now those initial investments have already been made.

The second reason is due to the relatively large number of banks in Taiwan, and among those banks, we are relatively small, and international investors generally look to large companies.

But the international trend of ESG investments is very promising for us. For example, according to the international ESG rating agency Sustainalytics, we are ranked number four in the financial sector in Taiwan. Although we are not the biggest, we placed in the top four on the ESG. It’s a big boost. And then MSCI is going to assess our ESG this year, so hopefully after this rating, we will get more attention from international investors for our ESG ratings.


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