Corporate Eye

A Rabbit Warren of Brazilian Banking CSR

Come Into The Rabbits Hole trimManagement & Excellence is what I can only describe as an intriguing and unique company.  Their website describes them as:

a research and rating company in the areas of ethics, sustainability, corporate governance, transparency and corporate social responsibility (CSR) specialized in Latin America, Spain and the oil industry worldwide

The company recently released the results of their 2010 “Most Sustainable Latin Bank” survey (PDF).   And the winner is (for the SIXTH year running!) Itaú-Unibanco.

This is no surprise.  Itaú-Unibanco is the largest Brazilian bank and one of the top 500 companies in the world, maintaining a presence not just in Latin American but also the US, Japan, Hong Kong, the UK and the UAE.  It’s no Merrill Lynch, but neither is it a small town squib.

But how can you examine its exceptional sustainability record online?  Only through digging, it would appear.

Show us the goods!

Itaú’s main Portuguese website can be found here.  There is an English portal, but this is the Investor Relations website, not the main website.

Down at the bottom of both portals are links to the Itaú Social Foundation and Cultural Institute websites, both of which fall under the broad base of CSR.

The Cultural Institute website gives the first insight into the rabbit warren of CSR content associated with the bank.  The English language version, linked to from the English IR page, is rather light on content and appears not to have been updated since 2002/3.

This is a shame because the Portuguese version is bang up to date and covers the company’s involvement in all forms of cultural activities from dance, literature and music to political cartoons, courses and exhibitions.

The Social Foundation website, on the other hand, is available only in Portuguese, as are all the other websites discussed in this article.

The Foundation itself is centred around education and the “formulation, implementation and dissemination of methodologies aimed at improving public policies in education”.  Sections of the website address eradicating child labour, a reading and writing “olympics”, the responsible use of money and education management best practices.

However the content is absolutely spot on.  Generally brief narrative descriptions of every area, which include relative figures, before links take you to other external websites for deeper information.

One of the best parts of the site is its library.  Here a whole set of presentations, papers and other publications have been brought together.  This demonstrates a real altruistic intention to disseminate material, rather than control it.

But that’s not all

Going back to the Management & Excellence results I noticed Itaú-Unibanco were praised for their Governance and Sustainability, not their CSR or social endeavours.

It took several attempts to flush these out, but I found them in the end.

The Governance side was staring me in the face from the Investor Relations landing pages.  A subsequent page lists all the initiatives the bank is involved in, such as the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and the Equator Principles, as well as other initiatives the bank has taken such as protecting the rights of small shareholders.

There are links leading off from the page to several policy and code areas.  This is very welcome in terms of transparency, but it would be cleaner if (say) all the policies were listed in one place, etc.

Sustainability, I have to admit, I finally found by accident.  At the top of the main Portuguese home page is a pull down list of site content and, in an inspired moment, I went looking for Sustainability on it.  Lo and behold, there it was!  I’ve since discovered you can also get to it from the front page of the bank’s Portuguese corporate site.

This is one of the most diverse sustainability websites I think I’ve ever come across.  It’s not a rehash of the bank’s Sustainability Report (which is available in good old fashioned PDF) but brings together a whole variety of sustainability related content under one roof.

For example, content tells customers what sustainability products they have, suppliers what sustainability criteria they will be measured against, and shareholders where to follow Itaú-Unibanco on Twitter and YouTube (!).

In a different part of the website, a brief introductory message from the bank’s President rubs shoulders with the fabled list of fully disclosed policies; and in a third section there are videos from Greenpeace Brazil and WWF.

Not all of these sections are particularly expansive, but the point is that Itaú-Unibanco seem to have decided to pull together a wealth of information and make it all available for all stakeholders under one, single roof.  This isn’t seen very often: either the topic or the stakeholder takes priority, but rarely both.

In Short

There has definitely been a language barrier when conducting this review: my Portuguese is very shaky and had I realised which site was the corporate site a lot earlier, much hunting around may have been avoided.

However, the site has three strands to its CSR: social, cultural and sustainability.  These are linked to from the footers from all over the site (as far as I can make out) but are only really pulled together on the front page of the corporate site, but nowhere else.

What’s more, the great section on policies in the Sustainability site should at least be referenced by the policies section on the IR site.

So it all seems a little haphazard and messy; confusing, like going around in a rabbit warren you finally get to your destination, but only after several wrong turns.

This could definitely do with being looked at.  As could the orange. I know it’s part of the corporate colours, but pretty please … try and find a different colour to offset it in places!

Picture Credit: Come into the Rabbits Hole by Smoobs under Creative Commons Attribution License, trimmed by Chris Milton.

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A former CTO, Chris has a broad and varied background. He’s been involved with blue chips, consultancies & SMEs across a wide variety of sectors and has worked in Europe, the Middle East and Australia. In 2007 he decided to combine his knowledge of business and IT with his passion for all things sustainable and has been busy writing ever since. However, his greatest ambition remains to brew the perfect cup of coffee.