“Banks are the bottleneck for economy, ecology and society”

As networker and board member of the institute for social banking, Sanika N. Hufeland is committed to greater social and ecological awareness and a stronger ...

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Foto: Lotte Ostermann

As networker and board member of the institute for social banking, Sanika N. Hufeland is committed to greater social and ecological awareness and a stronger female presence in the financial sector. While talking to info3, she describes a possible change in the financial world in which banks would have to become social players.

INTERVIEW: Andrea Kreisel (info3)
TRANSLATION: Rosa Alma Chizzini (ISB)
Link to the original interview at info3 magazine

Ms. Hufeland, what are the challenges the financial world is facing today?

The financial system must adapt to the major ecological and social crises and learn to be part of the solution rather than to be the source of the problems. Banks must understand that they play a key role in the functioning of the society and the economy. Transformation scientist Maja Göpel, for instance, stresses that we do not have an environmental problem, but a social problem. We have talked about theses issues a lot so far, but now action must follow. Changing the financial system requires a cultural change from within, which is why we work a lot directly with the employees.

What should the financial system do in order to take the social and environmental challenges seriously?

Pioneers in sustainable banking have shown that such a business model works. Now, it is time to spread this experience and learn from those pioneers. We need something like financial labs where, for example, the pioneers in sustainable banking can meet with conventional banks so that the movement and practice of sustainable banks can grow. Labs also generate new ideas for banking and financial services. From my perspective, hardly anyone today wants to establish a bank in the conventional sense.

Will there perhaps be no more banks in the future?

I do believe that banks will continue to exist. We must continue to supply people with money and use money as a tool to finance projects and so on. Above all, we have to get money to the right places in the economy and for that we need some sort of administration provided by banks.
Money is something very practical, it is a social agreement. However, banks’ position of power is currently neither up-to-date nor appropriate, and I think that financial institutions must re-establish their services to the people as their top-priority: respect instead of return. And if we do not want to return to the barter economy, we must manage money sensibly and empower people to be able to handle their money in a self-determined way.

You studied economics yourself and now work in the field of economic education. What would you like to change?

At the moment, power structures, hierarchical structures and the idea of profit prevail in conventional banking. It is all about profit maximisation, values, interest, shareholders, growth and these criteria are also taught at most universities. These basic structures must change so that values will return to be more important than profits. Nevertheless, a transformation and change in schools’ and universities’ teaching is not enough, we need change not in 15 years, but right now. This is why we are working very closely with people working in banks and financial institutions. They must face up to their responsibility and understand their role as the essential bottleneck for economy, ecology and society.  Financial institutions must open up completely, banks and employees must collaborate more with society, so that a whole network is created. Traditional banking is receding and banks are acting as catalysts to finance social and ecological change. They have become bridge-builders and thus, they also strengthen their trust and collaboration within an intertwined society.

One problem of the financial sector is that it is predominantly dominated by men. Bringing more women into the world of finance is enormously important for an equal society and that is what you are working for.

Yes, and there are still these old structures in which men go to work and women take over the household, i.e. take care of the community. Such traditional roles have long been questioned. Some women simply do not like the hierarchies in banks, the men’s clubs and all that testosterone. However, I have noticed that even classic male roles are changing dramatically with the new generation, and so are the structures in financial institutions. Indeed, I often look for all the great women out there with their special ideas. Most of the time, I get up and leave an event when only grey men with their mediocre, out-dated ideas present themselves. Just recently, I attended a conference of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values for managers in sustainability banks around the world. Of the 60 CEOs present, there was a maximum of only five women at this event. That is way too few.

What does it take for women to become more present?

My main point is always that there must be networks for women. That’s why, a few years ago, I founded an informal network together with other women. Women need to support each other, talk to each other. I always try to get women on stage, and I make sure that there are at least as many female as male speakers or workshop participants at events, which is not always so simple. You also have to understand that women have not yet been able to gain very long experience in the financial sector or even in management positions due to the old distribution of roles, and therefore coaching or mentoring makes a lot of sense; and there are already a number of webinars for this purpose. De facto, half of our society consists of women who should also have a say in it and be able to shape it as well.

How is finance changing with more women in management positions?

You have to be careful not to talk too boldly about male and female characteristics. I would just say that the banking world is currently very hierarchical and one-dimensional. There are no complex goals, but that would be appropriate for our time. This would change with women.
There would probably be less power and egoism structures, more diversity, complex thinking and new perspectives due to different life realities. Women can lead conflicts mostly in a relationship-preserving way. That would also be very helpful for the financial world, it would become more resilient. I also believe that there would be more innovation, especially in social fields, because women are often even closer to the issues that hold our society together; the keyword being care work. But, above all, the task lies in the fact that we as a society invest money in the sense of the common denominator so that it serves the common good. Indeed, the cat seems to bite its own tail, because women generally earn less money and now, they are suppoed to make everything they earn available to the society. But that is how we have to think of banks, as an eco-system. The goal must be the ecological and the social well-being, and only through participation we can achieve the shift away from profit towards respect.

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