As a resident of Malaysia, I have long awaited a sustainability report from Maybank (Malayan Banking Berhad) - Malaysia’s leading financial services provider. The Group is increasingly international, employing 40,000 staff and serving over 18 million customers in 14 countries.
For a leading national business icon it is no mean feat to produce a first sustainability report. Expectations are always high, and different stakeholders will have very diverse expectations. It is therefore pleasing to see that Maybank appears to have gone through a thorough process, identifying (some) material issues and proceeded to report on these. The main gaps are a lack of Key Performance Indicators and targets, as well as a more transparent disclosure of weaknesses and challenges.
Overall, the company profile, strategy and governance sections are comprehensive and detailed. A few times the report does tend to become somewhat formulaic – and feels as if certain sections have been lifted from the stock exchange compliance documents. The introductory sections are sometimes long, and could be better presented, but most key information of interest to stakeholders is there.
The workplace section stands out as being particularly impressive. Assuming that a key target group for the report is current and potential employees, this section provides a very good overview of career progression and personal development structures, benefits and equal pay systems. The only improvement point here would be to lift some of the very interesting employee diversity data at the back of the report, and present it in diagram form.
The environmental section is an odd mish-mash. Maybank states that it has reported to the CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project), but the actual figures included in this report are very sketchy. There is information on the Group’s direct environmental impact, but this is mainly from its headquarters. For an international company, it would be nice to see some discussion of the significant impacts of the Group’s 1,750 retail outlets. To be fair, this is addressed as an area for improvement in the assurance statement, but it would have been good to include this weakness in the main body of the report. A disproportionate amount of space is spent on a tiger conservation project which is essentially philanthropic in nature. Nothing wrong with this, but as a major financier in one of the most highly biodiverse regions in the world, it would have been good to get more information on the types of lending and investment policies Maybank has in place.
The community investment section is plainly uninteresting and by far the weakest link. In this part of the report, Maybank reverts back to the soggy-sentimental language (e.g. “Touching hearts moment”) found in so many Asian reports. The 18 pages read like a long list of random activities, with very little reflection on the role of Maybank in society and the impact of its many programmes.
Although it is wonderful to see reporting on key material issues, such as privacy and customer complaints, it is puzzling that Maybank does not provide a commentary on their performance in this area. For example, complaints have risen by 50% in the past year, but Maybank does not offer an explanation for this.
At over 100 pages, the report is a tad lengthy – particularly as much of the report is long-winded. Overall, the report makes good and appropriate use of diagrams and tables. As with most Asian companies, the report tends to over-use images of children, as well as un-interesting and irrelevant photo-ops, but it is certainly a long way ahead of the worst “offenders” in the region.
The main improvement would be to develop a report style with a slightly more engaging and less corporate lay-out.
At first glance, Maybank’s report is a solid piece of CSR Reporting. It has been declared as a GRI application level A+ and has been externally assured.
One slight bugbear I have is the report’s use of GRI: A large part of the indicators is not reported on. The company explains the reason for omission as:
“We have not reported on this since we have not been able to gather the data yet because we do not have a sufficient system to monitor this indicator but will be able to report in the short-term. Our short-term plan is to continue to improve our data collection system and to make these available in our next report.”
Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. No first-time reporter can report on every single GRI indicator. I am just not convinced that this would really qualify as a reason for omission within the GRI. And regardless, I don’t understand why Maybank hasn’t just declared a B+ report – which would be perfectly acceptable. I have to admit that I am puzzled that so many Asian companies seem to be obsessed with achieving the A+. Many great and award-winning reports are at application level B (or even C).
The overall conclusion, though, is that Maybank’s inaugural report is a nice piece of reporting. It doesn’t push any boundaries, but is certainly a decent account of the sustainability performance of one of the region’s leading financial institutions.
- Develop reporting around responsible lending
- Develop targets and KPIs to enable ongoing tracking of progress
- Work on a slightly more engaging layout and decrease the length
- Reassess whether the report (or subsequent ones) should be better classified as application level ‘B’
Rikke Netterstrom is an Executive Director of CSR Asia www.csr-asia.com a leading provider of CSR and reporting advisory, research and networking, with offices in China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and Japan.