Navarra, one of Spain’s biggest savings banks, has rejigged its
social investment programme to give its customers more say in where
money is invested. The bank says that of its 650,000 clients, more
than 500,000 have participated in the initiative, helping it retain
its customer base. Rodrigo Amaral reports.
Caja Navarra (CAN), the Pamplona-based savings
bank, has upgraded its social investment programme. The campaign,
Tú Eliges, Tú Decides, allows clients to decide how the caja de
ahorro should spend the money that it is legally bound to
direct to social works and community projects. The programme is
faithful to the bank’s overall marketing slogan: ‘Revolucionar la
banca’ (To launch a bank revolution).
Like all Spanish savings banks, CAN is required
by law to funnel its profits, after taxes and reserve requirements,
to investments in social works – projects that improve the quality
of Spanish society. In 2007, the caja will direct €42
million to such ends.
Usually, the decision on which projects will be granted the money
is taken by the management of the company or foundations maintained
by them, which are later required to give a full account of the use
of the funds. From 2005 onwards, however, CAN has involved its
clients in the process, allowing them to vote on the projects they
consider worthier of help. This is where the Tú Eliges, Tú Decides
(You Choose, You Decide) programme was born.
According to Guillermo Catalán, CAN’s director of communications,
CAN bucked the trend by first offering clients the option to choose
the kinds of projects that would benefit from the bank’s help.
Projects were classified in eight different categories, and clients
would vote whether they thought the money should be spent in areas
such as education, sports or the environment. In 2006, in addition
to voting on the categories, clients were also given a limited
choice of projects to get funding. This year, they are choosing
directly the projects to be awarded the funds.
Around 2,000 initiatives have been pre-selected by CAN, managed by
over 1,600 non profit organisations, 811 of which have been made
eligible by CAN for the first time this year. Also for the first
time, they include projects from outside Spain, in countries like
Mexico, El Salvador, Colombia and India.
The complete range of options can be viewed via CAN’s website. Each
customer is entitled to choose three projects – from art
exhibitions and job-creating initiatives in Spain to environment
projects in developing countries – until 31 December. They can
change their minds until the deadline, and if they do not want to
pick actual individual projects, they can simply vote on three of
the eight categories instead.
The internet is not the only channel where people can vote. “We
send all clients a book with details of every project we’ve
pre-selected, along with a voting form. They can vote via SMS, by
visiting one of our branches, and even at our ATM machines”,
Catalán said, stressing that no charges are incurred by making the
He estimates that of CAN’s 650,000 current clients, more than
500,000 have already spent time this year giving their opinions on
the use of the firm’s social money, lured by the chance to do some
good without having to dig into their own pockets. “The response
has been overwhelming”, Catalán said.
He conceded that, from CAN’s point of view, the programme is also a
useful marketing tool, helping the bank gain a larger share in a
market that is being fought over by a growing number of domestic
and foreign players. “We’ve embraced initiatives that we call
‘civic banking’ to be more competitive”, he said. “We need to grow,
and, if possible, to grow faster than the market and than our
rivals. Even companies with a social role like ours have to
survive, and there is no alternative to growth.”
To stress its social character as a competitive advantage, CAN’s
website has a tool by which clients can calculate how much of their
money would be turned into either profits at commercial banks or
into projects that aim to generate some kind of social benefit, as
long as they bank with a caja de ahorro.
Cajas are required to allocate at least half of their
profits to reserves, and they channel the remainder back into the
community towards projects that fall under their social mandate
(obra social). The share of profits allocated to the obra
social – averaging close to 30 percent per year – has decreased
over the past decade, while the absolute level of profits has
increased. The decline is accounted for by increased taxation –
cajas were (almost) tax-exempt before 1985 – and higher
capitalisation requirements imposed on credit institutions.
Nearly all Spanish people benefit
A study by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) published in June
last year concluded that the social works funded by cajas’
money benefit 96 percent of the Spanish population (see RBI
564). Separate statistics gathered by Cajas de Ahorros
Confederada (Ceca), their umbrella organisation, showed that social
investments by all cajas amounted in 2005 to €1.34 billion,
equivalent to 21.5 percent of the sector’s net profits, generating
almost 30,000 jobs.
The IMF stated: “The cajas have been a major force in
extending services and in creating a highly competitive environment
in the Spanish financial system.”