MADRID born Esteban Barroso is the executive responsible for Spain’s only ‘ethical’ bank, Triodos Bank NV. Set up in 1980, before it was ‘hip to be green’, Triodos now boasts almost 300,000 customers in Europe.
Barroso, 49, set up the independent credit entity European Ethical Bank Foundation Triodos Bank NV in Spain, a reference in ethical and sustainable banking in Europe, and which was awarded ‘2009 Financial Times Award for Sustainable Bank of the Year.’
His banking roots date to 1978 and his CV includes companies like Barclays, among others. In 1998, he decided to leave traditional banking to create the Proyecto Trust SL (PT), becoming president and CEO.
PT operates as a consultant specialising in the development of initiatives, companies and projects which work in the environmental, social and cultural sectors in Spain.
PT would eventually be called Triodos Investments España, and later become the exclusive agent for Triodos Bank NV in Spain.
What is an ‘ethical’ or ‘sustainable’ bank?
It is a credit entity specialising in financing projects or companies with added social value, in sectors including agricultural farming, fair trade, renewable energies, education or attention for the disabled, amongst others, which are also economically feasible.
Ethical banking emerged in the 1960s in order to promote a responsible and transparent use of money. Ethical banks are 100 per cent transparent with the use they make of money.
Like any other credit entity, an ethical bank comes under the same levels of scrutiny as others.
What does Triodos mean?
It comes from the Greek expression ‘tri hodos’ which means ‘triple way’ or ‘triple road’. It refers to the triple
social, environmental and economic approach which Triodos Bank practises. Our clients’ savings allow us to fund innovative initiatives which, as well as being profitable, benefit people and the environment.
Is it possible to be a bank and 100 per cent ethical?
Being 100 per cent ethical or not is always arguable, depending on which parameters are taken into account. However, what we can claim is that our loan portfolio is 100 per cent sustainable and only includes companies, organisations and initiatives from sustainable sectors which are valuable to society and to the planet.
We have been proving for 31 years that it is possible to combine financial profitability with social and environmental profitability.
Banks are important social agents, the activity of which directly contributes to promote one type of social reality or another, as they are at the centre of the economic system, putting people and institutions that
want to save in touch with entrepreneurs who need money to develop their activity.
At Triodos Bank we have specialised in financing innovative and growing sectors, but always seeking the balance between environmental, social and economic factors. We are a bank, and we have to be capable of obtaining reasonable results.
We have an integrating vision which searches for a balance between the benefit and our social and environmental impact.
As a bank, we look for the economic profitability of the projects we finance, as we must be responsible in the use we make of our clients’ money.
However, our objective is not to maximize benefit, but rather to maximize sustainability, which creates a long-term business outlook.
Do you think idealism is compatible with capitalism?
It should be. Experiences such as ethical banking or sustainable companies show us that it is possible to
incorporate new values and ideals in our economic purchasing, saving and investing decisions. New economic approaches are currently being developed such as North American Sustainable Capitalism, with a long-term benefit perspective, and which takes into account the available resources and people’s welfare.
Sustainable capitalism has great potential, but shouldn’t be made into an ideology. Changes are not made through ideologies, but through real examples such as Triodos Bank’s.
Which factors are taken into account when deciding if an investment is ethical?
How is it investigated? Who decides? When a financing proposal is received, the first thing we ask is what social, environmental or cultural value does the initiative have and whether it fits within our financing policy.
Then, as a financial entity, we evaluate whether it is economically feasible. If a positive conclusion is reached after this professional analysis, the benefits will immediately appear.
Since 1980, Triodos Bank has financed thousands of referential organisations, companies and institutions in the areas of development co-operation, support for groups at risk of social exclusion, fair trade, the integration and care of the weakest, renewable energies, ecological farming, bioconstruction, sustainable tourism, education, art, etc.
This information is published in our trimestral magazine and website (www.triodos.es), to support our principles of transparency.
How do your clients’ benefits compare to those of other banks?
In 2010, we have once again grown by more than 20 per cent, which makes it obvious that it is profitable
to promote a more human type of banking, based on values.
Triodos Bank hasn’t needed to ask for help in any of the countries in which it operates and maintains a good level of liquidity and solvency.
On the other hand, Triodos Bank’s offer is similar to that of other entities when it comes to the profitability of our financial products. The financial crisis has made us increasingly aware of the impact of our economic choices and more conscious of our responsibility in the use of money.
Where are your branches in Spain?
In Cataluña and the Balearic Islands, Andalucia, Madrid, Castilla y Leon, the Comunidad Valenciana, Aragon and Basque Country. This year we hope to open five more offices.
However, the business model of Triodos Bank does not need a wide network of offices, as we mainly operate long-distance, which has many advantages, as any person, company or institution can become a client of Triodos Bank and engage our services wherever they are, and can work with their accounts via internet, phone and post.
Spain is the only country where Triodos Bank has opened several branches.
In the other countries where it is present (Holland, Belgium, the UK and Germany) there is only a central office.