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Redefining our economic infrastructure: the opportunity for global green fintechs

Part 1

Geilan Malet-Bates is the Chair of the P27 Green FinTech Forum and a regular contributor to green finance debates and consultations. Geilan joined Morgan Stanley’s capital markets division 20 years ago where she managed institutional client relations in Europe. She then went on to advise global fintechs on strategy and business development. In 2018, Geilan co-founded Plenitude, an ESG-focused digital wealth and pensions manager. In 2020, Geilan was included in the Innovate Finance Women in FinTech Powerlist. Geilan also sits on the IOD National Sustainability TaskForce  in addition to being an International Advisory Board member of the W Startup Community and the Co-Editor of a pending book on Green Finance and Fintech. Geilan is a UCL and Bocconi alumna who is fluent in English, Arabic, French and Italian.

You come from the world of finance, what motivated you to become a sustainability professional?

Growing up I would always gravitate towards conversations around economics and politics, disciplines that make the world go round, and my career choice was to be embedded into the heart of the subjects I was always passionately talking about. I am of half Egyptian and half British heritage. I grew up with both cultural influences which gave me an appreciation of the very different social realities faced by each and helped develop my strong sense of gratitude and sensitivity towards the most vulnerable. 

Sustainability and the fight for a fairer world run in my family’s blood. My Egyptian great grandfather was a senior military officer and a true humanitarian who fought against colonialism and racism in Africa. My British father is an architect highly involved in the local conservationist movement. I was raised in a family with an acute awareness towards reuse, recycling, moderate consumption, and no waste. I am a 4th generation sustainability enthusiast. 

The transition I made into sustainable finance and fintech was to marry my personal values with my career aspirations – to take the technical aspects of what I learned in my banking years, and apply them to make an impact in the world. I’m half Egyptian, half therefore from a country considered ‘over there’ where poor is really poor – like much of the ‘emerging/developing’ world and so my thoughts during my banking days would always gravitate towards ‘what difference can I make; what project can I launch?’. I felt a sense of responsibility for people less privileged than me. 

Working in banking, what I quickly grew to not appreciate was the non-inclusive and jargonistic nature of the sphere, and so my foray into entrepreneurship a few years later was driven by the desire to help the regular person be as comfortable as any Fortune 500 CEO, engaging with the emotive topic of money. What studies have also shown, most notably by Nordea, is that whilst trying to fly less, eating less meat, etc are important, channeling our investments into companies that are doing the right thing – thinking about savings and integrally our pensions – is the most effective way each and every one of us can actually make a difference, over the long term. 

My foray into entrepreneurship a few years later was driven by the desire to help the regular person be as comfortable as any Fortune 500 CEO, engaging with the emotive topic of money.

You are the Chair of The Green FinTech Forum (GFTF). Tell us about this organisation, its mission and your role in stewarding its community?

The GFTF is a global initiative overseen by London-based sustainability consultancy P27 to bridge the gap between corporates and start-ups. As a former banker and an entrepreneur, I’m all too familiar with the engagement challenges that arise between these two groups, particularly for startups in trying to collaborate and get the momentum they require, even deserve. The GFTF community seeks to overcome those hurdles and break the silos. I am building the infrastructure from the ground up to facilitate the steady growth of this global community. I, therefore, invite all stakeholders (corporates, investors, academia, thought-leaders) with a mission to accelerate the convergence between green finance and a more sustainable and humane world for all, to join the forum. Collaborative action is the raison d’etre of this global community.

You have very interesting experience promoting and advising on green and sustainable finance for many different organisations. Tell us about the milestones in your career and where you think there is more potential for leading on action against climate change?

My career has been defined by transition and the gaining of recognition as an expert in my fields. Change, albeit sometimes forced, can be a great opportunity, depending on the mindset one adopts. It has certainly been the case here as it’s allowed me to live my true purpose and develop considerably both professionally and as a person too – embracing discomfort is how we grow. 

I would consider the following key milestones as critical shapers of my sustainability career and impact:

  • Reinvention from banking into tech and incorporating sustainability and my values;
  • Becoming an entrepreneur which afforded me the privilege of collaborating with many incredible people from all around the world and the opportunity to shape sustainable finance through contributions to global consultations; 
  • Being recognised as one of the top 150 global women in fintech, earlier this year
  • Being recognised as a thought-leader in the sustainable finance and fintech spheres
  • Speaking at Mobile World Congress and other prestigious events which afford me the opportunity to share my knowledge also on the topic of Diversity & Inclusion. For someone who shied away from public speaking growing up and into my earlier adult years, this is an especially big deal. But it’s a gratifying responsibility every time I’m approached thereafter by those who express that I have inspired them with my own story and advice.

Overall, whilst governments and businesses still have a great deal of work to do, I believe much more needs to be done to frame the conversation towards individuals, as many think they are void of responsibility. But in reality, everyone has a role to play. This is why the scope of retail investing and encouraging people to think about their long-term savings and pensions is also incredibly powerful. I equally think that educating individuals about GreenHouse Gas (GHG) budgets so that individual actions can be contextualised to emissions, would go a long way towards the adoption of healthier lifestyles. For the average non-scientific individual, a lot of this remains conceptual. There is also much to be done to help impactful tech companies affect the change they exist to make, which is why I’m passionate about the GFTF as an integral initiative, but greater active collaboration from all global stakeholders is required.

I believe much more needs to be done to frame the conversation towards individuals.This is why the scope of retail investing and encouraging people to think about their long-term savings and pensions is also incredibly powerful.

What evolution have you witnessed in terms of sustainability interest, focus and savviness from the financial world in the last decade?

To start with I’ve observed that the way we speak about sustainability and ESG has evolved over time. I get asked a lot whether it is all a “ hype’, the next fad, but the answer is categorically no. All of us in the sphere do what we do, because for a long time the business status quo has been one of laissez faire to the point of not taking any accountability for its impacts. It means companies, industries have been allowed to operate on the basis of zero consequences, but someone else is paying the bill elsewhere. To use an analogy, we’re just asking for a readjustment of habits, in order to show our planet the same mercy that we show our own bodies. Do people think that eating healthily and exercising in order to prolong our own lives, is hype? The protagonist of the discussion is different, but the principle is exactly the same.

One of your previous interviewees, Wayne Visser, touched on the definition of sustainability; I agree with him that if we focus solely on the core aspect of sustenance, that’s not very inspiring. But if we look at it in terms of allowing our children and their children to reap the same rewards that we’ve had the privilege of, on the basis of the same level of economic activity, then that’s a different ball game. As such, the UN’s elegant definition is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

There has definitely been a growth in interest in sustainable investing within traditional institutional and High Net Worth Individual (HNWIs) circles; the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance (GSIA) biennial 2020 report relates a global increase of assets under management into sustainably-focused investments of 15% from 2018-2020 (note regional discrepancies). But as you’ve seen, globally there are FinTechs that have been working to extend responsible investing to the regular person too.

I feel that we, as a global society, have built ourselves a construct in which we’ve afforded ourselves short-term congratulatory gratification, believing that we’re doing enough of the right thing. Whilst yes there have of course been positive steps in the right direction, when we look at our efforts from a long-term perspective, to which the discussion of sustainability pertains, it’s well-documented that we fall immensely short of the targets we need to achieve; a few unactioned pledges here and there don’t qualify as adequate effort. And of course, greenwash persists. 

COP26 has been disappointing as many governments haven’t done enough. We have seen that more pledges do not necessarily translate into more action. It feels like geopolitics taints the discussions whereas the climate crisis knows no geographical boundaries. Frankly, no country is in a position to be finger-pointing; I’m currently in the UK which today, to name one of its woes, still considers that it is acceptable to export its waste overseas. Furthermore, biodiversity and natural capital aren’t as present in discussions as they should be.

We're just asking for a readjustment of habits, in order to show our planet the same mercy that we show our own bodies. Do people think that eating healthily and exercising in order to prolong our own lives, is hype?

What does still need to happen to make the global economy greener?

In my mind what still needs to happen is as follows:

  • Enhanced collaboration. This includes cooperation between different institutional stakeholders and startups, and between startups themselves – partnerships that allow them to be put on the map together for the right reason. There’s room for everyone. It doesn’t mean giving up their IP but rather about pooling complementary resources to solve the world’s problems. If you’re truly intent on creating a better world, then healthy competition means embracing each other and multiplying impact.
  • Complete the infrastructure, promptly – the EU Taxonomy is incomplete; amongst other things, it does not fully recognise technological transformation across many industries as an integral aspect of the future economy and certainly leaves out the all-important ‘S’, the social factors, in ESG. 

The TaskForce for Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) scope 3 emissions which represent 75-90% of a company’s emissions, effectively its supply chain, are missing from mandatory reporting requirements. This means we’re insanely making decisions based on only 25% of the required data! The TaskForce for Nature-Related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) is just coming together now to create a framework that will only be ready with its recommendations in two years’ time, that will require the industry to better understand its impacts on our natural ecosystems.

  • ESG ratings are inconsistent, therefore non-comparable and only focus on carbon emissions. So if we take Tesla as an example, it ranks highly environmentally because the emissions from driving one of its cars are less than those of its non-EV peers. But not factored into the ratings: the environmental violations from the creation of each car (e.g. mining of the elements required for components; what happens to the batteries at end of life?) and how its workers are treated. If we were to readjust for those factors, EV suddenly becomes less green. This means that the investment portfolios of even the most judicious managers, are not as holistically ESG-reflective as they could be; and if we talk about emerging markets, it becomes an even more complex discussion           

In essence, what is being asked for, from a grassroots level, is for a redefinition of the economic infrastructure within which we operate. For that to happen we need to come up with alternative measures to current purely-financial-measuring GDP. I see a huge opportunity therefore for Fintechs globally to come together in re-framing this new economic order.

If you’re truly intent on creating a better world, then healthy competition means embracing each other and multiplying impact.

2 thoughts on “Redefining our economic infrastructure: the opportunity for global green fintechs”

  1. Pingback: The opportunity for global green fintechs (pt.2) - Remotefulness

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