Whether it is investing, purchasing, investing, transporting goods or producing goods, sustainability has become a competitive factor for companies worldwide that should not be underestimated. In this blog post, fiduciaries learn how they can support their clients in creating sustainable financial plans.
The term “sustainability”, which has become a buzzword in recent years, originally comes from forestry. It means only cutting as much wood as can grow back again. “Sustainability is one of the key normative terms of the 21st century and conveys the goal of permanently preserving the earth as the basis of life,” defines the Gabler Wirtschaftslexikon. The term “sustainable” is used to describe a development “in which today’s needs are satisfied (intergenerational justice) without depriving future generations of their livelihood (intragenerational justice)”. Topics that can be associated with sustainability include poverty alleviation, corporate social responsibility (CSR), health, climate protection, mobility, human rights and eco-efficiency.
What does sustainability mean in practice?
End consumers are becoming increasingly environmentally aware and no longer tacitly accept social ills. This is reflected in their purchasing decisions. Sustainable companies, on the other hand, are generally perceived by the public as more responsible and trustworthy than their competitors, which gives them a competitive advantage. Banks and investors are also increasingly favouring companies that operate sustainably. At the same time, governments in many countries are imposing increasingly strict regulations and environmental requirements. Companies that address the new requirements early on can minimise legal risks and avoid fines.
Today, Swiss SMEs should be, or at least become, aware of the increasing importance of sustainability – and the associated opportunities for greater corporate success – in business practice. Sustainability has become such an important success factor that sooner or later all your clients will have to deal with it. As a fiduciary professional, you can proactively make your SME clients aware of this.
Why your SME clients should integrate sustainability into their strategy
How can you make the case for more sustainable financial plans and business practices to your customers? A well thought-out and realistic sustainability strategy can strengthen the brand image of companies in the long term. It can help SMEs served by your fiduciary stand out from competitors. Sustainable financial plans lay an important foundation for companies’ sustainability strategy. What do you need to bear in mind when helping your SME clients to develop more sustainable financial plans?
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to sustainability, and new findings such as those from environmental or climate research, social science studies and reports from international organisations regularly lead to companies that think sustainably wanting or needing to revise their practices. Together with your clients, define which values they want to prioritise when creating sustainable financial plans and concepts. Do they care about social justice and want to purchase goods only from producers with demonstrably fair working conditions after a certain date, which will require a partial change of suppliers? Is environmental protection a top priority and do they want you to help them put together an environmentally friendly investment portfolio? Is it about improving energy efficiency and evaluating investments in more sustainable heating systems for the business premises?
Soft skills help you find out what your target group really wants
What sustainability means for your clients is ultimately determined by them. It is therefore all the more important that trustees understand the needs of their existing and potential clients and can tailor their advice accordingly. Listen actively to your target group in a direct exchange. Active listening means giving verbal and non-verbal feedback to the person speaking and signalling that you understand what is being said. This can be a brief nod, smile, frown or an appropriate query. Sometimes it also helps to briefly summarise what has been said in your own words to make sure that you have understood everything correctly.
Empathy is also central to understanding your clients’ needs for sustainable financial planning in the best possible way. According to the management innovation platform “Management Competencies“, empathy is the “ability to put oneself accurately into the world of thoughts and feelings of other people”. This makes it possible to better assess the behaviour of the other person and to adjust to it in a targeted manner. Demonstrate to prospects and clients that you understand their sustainability needs and present tailored services for more sustainable plans and strategies.
How to create time for new advisory services
According to a study by Accounto and Treuhand Suisse, the fiduciary sector is more concerned than ever with developing innovative services and expanding advisory skills. This also includes supporting your clients in developing sustainable financial plans. Given the increasing importance of sustainability, the demand for sustainable financial plans is likely to continue to rise. However, many fiduciary companies are already working at high capacity and are suffering from the ongoing shortage of skilled workers in the fiduciary industry. Under these circumstances, how are you supposed to find the time to focus more on sustainability and expand your fiduciary’s advisory services?
Outsourcing routine tasks such as document processing, reconciling sub-ledgers and creating standardised reports to fully automated fiduciary software significantly reduces the workload of fiduciary companies and allows fiduciaries to focus more on consulting – such as sustainable financial planning – and expanding their services. In order to make your daily work more efficient, fiduciary software must be able to relieve you and your team of as many routine tasks as possible. Conventional solutions hardly offer any relief in this respect, as in most cases they only digitally map the previous processes and thus still require manual work. Another must is centralised and secure processing, management and storage of data and documents on a stable platform with the highest data protection standards.