Which sustainability type are you?

If banks and insurance companies want to raise awareness of the topic of "sustainable finance", they need to get to know their customers better - and at the same time win over employees for the topic. zeb's new sustainability typology helps them to do so.

The demands are coming from all sides: The EU Commission wants the financial market to be sustainable, i.e., to focus on the environment, social issues and good corporate governance - the so-called ESG criteria. The European Central Bank sees dangers for the stability of the financial market, for example due to climate risks. The German government is subsidizing the energy-efficient refurbishment of existing buildings with record sums. And the major fund companies, such as Blackrock, have aligned their investment strategy with ESG criteria. 

This opens up opportunities: We at zeb consulting recently calculated that the additional earnings opportunities for banks and savings banks in Germany in business with private clients alone amount to EUR 1.6 billion.

Appeals for more sustainability alone are not enough

"The potential for sustainable investments is there, but appeals to behave sustainably alone are not enough," Anna Wessels, consultant at zeb, describes the challenges. The options vary depending on the institution and the customer base. There are credit institutions that specialize in sustainable financial products and those for which the topic hardly plays a role. Both have very homogeneous customer groups and a clear positioning that is easy to communicate. But for all banks and savings banks between these extremes, customers are harder to reach. 

Where does one's own institution stand in this regard and what are the urgent fields of action? "We have developed a Sustainability-Health Check for this purpose," says zeb consultant Thomas Reimler. The procedure is divided into three elements: a location determination of the organization by means of a structured self-assessment, a localization of the employees and a typologization of the customers.

Start with the employee and customer survey

In particular, by surveying employees and customers, institutions gain a knowledge advantage over competitors who do not do so. An innovative, chatbot-based approach can provide significant support here.  "The survey is entertaining. You have to imagine it like a WhatsApp dialog, except that there is a human on one side and a chatbot on the other," explains Anna Wessels. The whole thing works on both desktop computers and smartphones. "Our test customers have reacted very positively, there was only a low dropout rate ... and interesting results."

About 20 percent are already convinced of "sustainable financial products" and act as influencers. About five percent are difficult or impossible to reach for the topic. And by far the majority - 75 percent - can be convinced. "But this largest group is not homogeneous within itself," says zeb consultant Antje Axmann.

Social incentives more important than material ones

Women generally take sustainability into account more strongly and especially when social incentives are provided. And overall, it can be observed that sustainable behavior is socially mediated, not financially. The environment and important role models have a more conducive effect than economic aspects. Only together with social motives are material incentives conducive, otherwise they tend to be a hindrance. And: There are differences between the intentions to live more sustainably and the actual behavior. Families with children, for example, view car use skeptically, but are more dependent on it and more likely to travel in their own cars. 

The second phase involves training customer advisors. "The advisors are the central control lever. Only if they are convinced can they sell the financial products credibly," says zeb consultant Thomas Reimler. It is not enough to motivate the customer advisors with commissions alone. They need to know what types of customers there are and how to address them.

Typology facilitates targeted customer approach

This applies, for example, to the "pragmatic family" type. They want to do good, but shy away from additional effort. Another type is the "Sustainable Materialists." They are mostly male and seek material benefits, but can be influenced by their immediate social environment. These two sustainability types are only two of several that zeb has classified. 

In the third - and final - phase, customer data is analyzed. For this purpose, zeb uses models supported by artificial intelligence. "Thanks to surveys and AI models, we are able to predict behavior 99 percent correctly and the intention to behave in a certain way 65 percent," says zeb consultant Antje Axmann.

"The entire model and the procedure meet the highest scientific standards," sums up Prof. Joachim Hasebrook. The Head of Research and Development at zeb Consulting was part of the project team. His conclusion: zeb was the first consulting company to develop a specific method for identifying sustainability typologies.