Bank of Aland (based in a small archipelago in the Baltic sea between Sweden and Finland) created a unique environmental index that demonstrates the environmental impact of consumption based on credit card statements.
Bank of Åland Plc (Ålandsbanken) is a Finnish commercial bank and banking group with over 700 employees and operations in Åland islands, Finland and Sweden. The bank was founded in 1919.
Bank of Åland has 30 branch offices across Finland and Sweden and the number of retail and private banking customers is about 90 000. In Finland, Bank of Åland is a full service bank focused on private banking and premium banking.
As stated on their webpage: “We are careful with our customers´ money. We are not so fussy about titles. We trust each other. These are values that we live by, in everything we do. In the early 1980s we opened our first office on Finnish mainland. Those who visited us soon noticed that we were unusually informal. There was not much bowing and scraping. Instead people were invited for a nice chat over a cup of coffee.”
Ålandsbanken has been working with funding environmental projects for 20 years – social responsibility is part of their DNA. But there was an untold story. Their agenda had been a bit too wide, so they decided to focus on the Baltic Sea as it’s more relevant to their domestic market.
Baltic Sea Credit Card – the non-plastic plastic card
“We decided to develop a credit card – the Baltic Sea Credit Card. With the use of this card, some money went for the support for the clean Baltic Sea. It didn’t make sense to have a typical plastic card, so the material of the card was fully bio-sourced and we devoted the full front side of the card to the cause, writing “I support a clean Baltic Sea” on it. It was all based on the insight that today prestige is more about social responsibility than just having the platinum card. If I take out a credit card that shows that I care – it fills my social prestige in a different way. “ – Mathias Wikström, CEO at RBK Communication Sweden.
But RBK wasn’t satisfied because people don’t need new credit cards, they need new knowledge as well. And that’s why they decided to develop the Åland Index – to bridge the gap between the cause and the effect. It was the first bank index for everyday environmental impact. The index used every retailer’s specific merchant category code, which was then cross-referenced with financial market data on the carbon footprint of these industries. This made it possible to calculate the carbon footprint of every individual transaction. Based on this info, personal reports on the environmental impact of consumption were made and presented together with people’s monthly bills. Monthly bill always gets a lot of attention because people want to see the ‘damage’ that has been done to their finances. Now it also showed the damage that has been done to the environment. But RBK didn’t want to leave people with the feeling that they are the bad guys doing harm to the environment, so they presented them with options to compensate – by supporting local or global environmental projects or by changing their lifestyle.
The rest is history. Soon the United Nations picked it up and invited Ålandsbanken managers to speak about the project at several high-level events.
- Earned media value: 350 Million EUR;
- All cards now come with Aland Index;
- 2,2 billion cards available in total, setting a new global standard;
- 100% coverage in industry media;
- +18 000 followers on social media;
- +350 000 000 in media reach;
- +308% in brand awareness (9% to 40%);
- +34% deposits;
- +4,4% accounts;
- A global tool for consumption became an instrument for the environment;
- Data is a solution instead of a fog;
- A mandatory case study at Stockholm School of Economics;
- The bank has donated 1,6 m euro to environmental projects so far;
- Discussions with 35 banks regarding Åland Index;
- Winner of Grand Prix for our corporate social responsibility in the world’s biggest communication contest, Cannes Lions;
- Invited to present the initiative at several United Nations conferences as a concrete example of implementing the Paris Agreement;
Interview with Mathias Wikström, CEO of RBK Communication (Sweden)
Did media pick it up organically or did you have to push it with some help from PR specialists?
One of our core ambitions was to have the media scrutinize this project and to question this – is it a good idea, how does this work, etc. We wanted people to really dig in to understand what we’re trying to do. But yes, we did have Hill+Knowlton in Stockholm working with us too, helping to push it a bit, selecting journalists from business press, etc. But it wasn’t a very big initiative. We wanted it to start small but once it took off it started growing organically.
There were also a lot of people in social media pushing the conversation, e.g. asking “why doesn’t my bank have this?” etc.
Can you think of any lessons that other marketers can learn from this case?
Dare to be a bit braver and think bigger, even if you are a small player in small region.
When you’re creating communication for change you can stand on the shoulders of the giants. And that’s what Åland Index is all about. We stood on the shoulders of giants like MasterCard, KPMG, Thomson Reuters and WWF. One of the most important insights is not to have just the great idea, but to have the great idea executed together with such large companies. And it all comes down to the people. We found the right people who wanted to be part of something like this and really tried to support us in every way they could. Without such partners we would have never made it on our own. They have been very supportive and come out of their comfort zone and ordinary ways.
I think it’s also always important to look back. Especially in projects of this scale – where you’re working with all these big companies, deal with all this kind of innovation, Big Data, digital solutions, etc. You sometimes just have to stop and look back – in order to remind yourself what is it that you’re really wanting to achieve and how does this correspond with the DNA of the brand. So that the success won’t become a value in itself. It’s of course amazing to win awards, but if you ask me what I’m most proud of, then it’s the confidence and trust that the bank has put in us.
What advice would you give to other smaller agencies – how to win such confidence and trust?
I think agencies in general need to understand that the world is facing new challenges and instead of helping clients to just sell more, we nowadays need to help clients to still be around. For many years, PR and corporate communication people have worked around issues like sustainability and responsibility while ad agencies have been more focused on how to improve business results and sell more. I think that these days we need to come deeper into our clients’ business and show them that we have a good understanding of it. We need to earn the trust by challenging our clients with some important questions, such as sustainability for example. You build trust through challenging because by challenging you can add value and adding value brings you trust.