Corporate purpose

Why Lloyds Banking Group has temporarily reset its corporate purpose to help Britain recover from the pandemic

Shortlisted: Best embodiment of corporate purpose
CovidComms Awards 2020

The current economic crisis has provided an opportunity for Britain’s financial institutions to rebuild their reputations as, where in 2008 they were the cause of a global meltdown, this time around they are very much part of the solution.

As Andrew Walton, group corporate affairs director at Lloyds Banking Group, explains: ‘This time we’ve got masses of capital and cash to lend, and a whole range of measures that the government immediately brought in, such as loan schemes for people to borrow interest free for what is now two years and then pay back over ten.’

But Lloyds Banking Group’s long-standing purpose, first articulated in 2014, to help Britain prosper, was not quite right for the current environment. ‘The word ‘prosper’ doesn’t resonate particularly easily in the middle of a massive, global crisis. We needed to adapt quickly to a different environment where prosperity was no longer an objective; it was recovery and sustaining people’s existence,’ explains Walton. ‘We needed to slightly reset our purpose as an actual set of words – helping Britain recover.’

Initially, the ‘reset’ purpose was for internal purposes only, as the banking group sought to articulate for employees what its role and guiding principles should be, but inevitably Lloyds started to talk about the new words externally. As Walton puts it, ‘helping Britain recover’ is now the bank’s mission statement for the next 12 months.

We had an obvious manifestation of our purpose in the core of what we were doing day in, day out. If you are doing that on the scale that we were, as the other banks were, you do get a kind of positive boost effect

But a corporate purpose achieves little if it is merely a set of words, so Lloyds considered a series of substantive ways to bring its new mission statement to life. It set itself three objectives. Its actions would be aligned to the principles that underpin its Helping Britain Prosper Plan, maintaining consistent and authentic support for its stakeholders. It would ensure that there was widespread awareness and uptake of its initiatives to support communities. And it would be clear about how it would support its employees, so that they could – in turn – contribute to the communities in which they lived and worked.

‘I think a lot of companies perhaps struggled to find a way to shine a light onto how they were supporting their stakeholder groups, but for us it was easier. We were handing out money at the government’s behest,’ explains Walton. ‘We had an obvious manifestation of our purpose in the core of what we were doing, day in, day out. If you are doing that on the scale that we were, as the other banks were, you do get a kind of positive boost effect.’

Lloyds Banking Group brought its purpose to life for stakeholders by sharing case studies demonstrating the impact of its activities to real businesses through both the media and internally to galvanise its people.

‘Then I think we followed the lead of supermarkets, a little bit, who did an amazing job on this, which was starting to identify priority, vulnerable groups who needed special attention,’ adds Walton. ‘So, we prioritised people.’

He adds: ‘On phone lines, we partnered with The Silver Line [which had joined forces with Age UK to support older people suffering from loneliness]. We did partnering calls from our branches to people who were on their own at home. We also put lots more money into the Mental Health and Money Advice Service, which is something we have supported for years.’

The bank also recognised that many of its customers, who might be shielding or in a vulnerable group, would be unable to visit their branches and so it launched a partnership with We Are Digital to get 20,000 older people  online. It even distributed 2,000 tablets to those without a device. ‘Actually, that has been the most extraordinary thing that we have done,’ explains Walton. In the nine months from March 2020, an additional 1.4 million people started using Lloyds’ apps on their phones.

‘We’re at more than 12 million people using our mobile apps, which is around 12 per cent growth in usage, and is transformative for our business,’ he adds. ‘It is like a true manifestation of changing the way people deal with us that will become permanent.’

Lloyds Banking Group also backed its four foundations which, as enshrined in its articles of association, receive 0.5 per cent of its pre-tax profits. (Lloyds is only one of two FTSE 100 companies that gives a set percentage of profits to charity.) In 2019, the foundations received £25.2 million – a sum that the bank also guaranteed in 2020.

The foundations – the ten-year old Bank of Scotland Foundation, the Halifax Foundation for Northern Ireland, Lloyds Bank Foundation for the Channel Islands and the 35-year-old Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales – focus on small, local charities.

‘Their average grant is in the low tens of thousands to small charities all across the country,’ says Walton. ‘I think that’s had a big impact on local communities.’ But the focus of the foundations has also temporarily been adapted

The foundations have distributed emergency funding to help hundreds of charities impacted by the crisis, but they have also adapted grant-giving programmes, offering more flexibility in how these are used and reported. They launched a series of Covid-19 response forums, after hearing that charities needed help with crisis and financial management, which comprise two-hour online sessions in which Lloyds staff use their knowledge and experience to help small charities solve problems, to discuss challenges brought by the pandemic and set targets. More than 80 charities have since been helped by 350 colleagues, which also formed part of Lloyds volunteering programme.

The existing programme was redeveloped to allow its 65,000 people to support their local communities. And the bank made a commitment to deliver 720,000 volunteering hours by the end of 2020 – almost three times more hours than it delivered in 2019.

Like most other businesses, Lloyds Banking Group has enabled most of its people to work from home. Around 50,000 from its 65,000 head count now have secure laptops. ‘But we must not forget that a third of our staff never left their workplace. They’ve been commuting. They’ve been driving to work. We tried to get more to drive by renting parking spaces near branches,’ adds Walton. ‘Branch staff, call centre staff, critical IT staff, they’ve been key workers all the way. They kept the branches open, but like other institutions, we were hit by Covid-19. We had sickness. We had to close branches.’

Does he think that the crisis has changed the way in which branch staff are appreciated by the public? ‘I think it has had an impact on society. Everybody has recognised that delivery drivers, till workers and bank staff are essential workers. If one of the benefits is that people have a higher regard for service providers, and a greater level of recognition of the work that they do to keep society moving day in, day out, that can only be a good thing, right?’ Walton replies.

‘We also did all the right things, that we could afford to do. We weren’t furloughing anyone, but we also made sure that everyone, even if they were on contract working, was paid in full whether they could come to work or not. So, if somebody said I’ve got childcare issues, and I won’t be able to do my shift they were still paid regardless. I think you should expect that from a good corporate citizen, and the unions really got behind us.’

He adds: ‘And like most organisations, we had great examples of volunteering by staff, calling vulnerable people at home, delivering medicines – all of those things – which we could bring to life with real stories, so that everybody could get behind [our purpose].’

We weren’t furloughing anyone, but we also made sure that everyone, even if they were on contract working, was paid in full whether they could come to work or not

Internally, there was also a great focus on the mental wellbeing of colleagues. It is an issue which has resonance within Lloyds Banking Group, after chief executive Antonio Horta-Osorio took six weeks’ stress related leave just eight months after accepting the job in 2011.

‘Antonio came back, transformed Lloyds and has gone on to talk very openly about mental health as an issue that he faced and has overcome. I think that was a big moment of change in corporate Britain,’ says Walton. There are myriad ways in which Lloyds Bank raises awareness of mental health both internally and externally, including its partnership with charity Mental Health UK, which has been running since 2017, training 2,500 colleagues as mental health advocates, launching resilience training and support for staff and in 2019 becoming the first bank to sign the Mental Health Accessibility Standards, supporting customers.

‘Antonio recognised early on that  working from home could have really big mental health impacts for people because an office environment is an outlet for them in many ways,’ says Walton. ‘He talked to people about their mental health and about how to manage their home working.’ Several internal measures were put in place, including the establishment a network of 1,300 mental health advocates and the launch of a dedicated mental health and wellbeing hub, offering information and support.

It has been a long, tiring yet rewarding period, but of which aspect of the communications team’s work is Walton most proud? ‘As a communicator, I think the things that feel most impactful are when the real life, the real stuff that your business is doing – in our case, lending to people – suddenly comes to life in people’s eyes and they recognise the transformation that it’s causing,’ he replies. ‘You think about case studies in PR, and it’s like the oldest trick in the book, but the stories that emerged about people in tears on the phone to their bank manager saying ‘this has saved our business’… and it wasn’t just about giving them the money, but it was about it not being a stressful or lengthy process. They could log in, put in the basic figures and have the money within 24 hours. Bringing that to life in case studies, I thought was just brilliant.

‘We sent loads of the case studies to journalists. Sometimes they were covered, but not often. But the banking editor of the Financial Times sent me an email saying that it was genuinely heartening to receive these every few days. He wasn’t going to write about them, so they won’t show up in a media score, but I just know that we have reached a tipping point where people see us as part of the solution. It is transforming the way that people view the industry.’