Commentary

HSBC Sees GreenIn Green

When being green equates to saving money, that's where financial services companies are putting theirs. Every financial services company has some kind of environmentally oriented initiative, from building LEED-certified corporate headquarters to pledging billions of dollars in either investment money or charitable contributions to help stop global warming or cut down on harmful carbon emissions.

Sure it's trendy to be environmentally friendly but there are bottom-line advantages to having bank customers, for example, pay bills online or sign up for electronic statements.

The HSBC Group, a London-based bank with some 450 retail branches in the U.S., mostly in New York, has launched a campaign through June 8 tied to this Sunday's Earth Day and themed "There's No Small Change." The bank is hosting a series of localized events to encourage customers to open new individual or business checking accounts and existing customers to enroll in online bill pay and to sign up for e-statements. As a result, it will heavy up on advertising in Florida, California, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey. The campaign has radio, print, online and outdoor ad components and a three-month calendar of earth-friendly events listed on a microsite.

Nicole Rousseau, VP/retail marketing at HSBC, and Linda Recuper, EVP/public affairs, cite HSBC's long history of reducing waste through sustainable green practices and internal initiatives such as monitoring the amount of electricity used by individual employees.

And it's not anything new.

Admitting that being green is an important trend in business, Recuper argues that HSBC has "legitimacy in the space." HSBC has been "carbon net zero" since 2005, which means it emits no carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Moreover, last year the Financial Times designated HSBC the "Sustainable Bank of the Year" and the EPA has singled out the bank's efforts two years in a row.

There's no "external business objective to doing the right thing," Recuper asserts.

There are savings, however in reduced paper and printing costs. "Our product group estimates that if every new checking account [holder] did pay just three bills on line, more than 500,000 pieces of paper would be saved from that effort alone."

As part of its no small change initiative, a "Green Living Kit" is sent to each new checking or business checking customer who opts to pay at least three bills online. Inside the kits are vouchers and coupons for earth-friendly products, a reusable shopping bag and a free issue and one-year subscription to The Green Guide from National Geographic.

"What we are saying to customers is that there is no small change and that every change is important," says Recuper.

Among new initiatives expected to be introduced in the coming months is a socially responsible investment fund. "We're just ramping up our options ... to offer socially responsible funds," she says.

Editor's note: This is the third in a series of articles that focus on the environment and green marketing this week, which leads to Earth Day on Sunday.